Interesting anecdotes in the history of physics?

  • #141
Heisenberg's mom

In the 1935's Arnold Sommerfeld was reaching emeritus status and Werner Heisenberg (already famous) wanted to take his position in Munich. However the application was rejected. At that time Nazism was already on the rise. The Deutsche Physik (movement of nationalist physicist) disliked Heisenberg because he sympathized with Einstein's relativity. The position was eventually taken by Wilhelm Müller a scientist that was less well known than all the other candidates and that was not even part of the DPG (German Physical Society).

The problems increased, Heisenberg tried to invite Nazi Students League to convince them that he was apolitical. Heisenberg was even called by the Gestapo to make declarations in three occasions. And spies were sent to his house and during his lectures to see if he was teaching the ideas of Einstein. Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the SS, started saying that Heisenberg was a "White Jew" who should be made to "disappear".

Fortunately, during school years, Heisenberg had attended the same school as Heinrich Himmler, who controlled the Gestapo. Heisenberg's mother (Annie) knew Himmler's mother (Anna Maria) from those days. So Annie decided to call Anna to please tell the SS to give her son a break. After the call, Himmler forbade any futher repercussions on Heisenberg. Thanks mom.
 
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  • #142
George Gamow stories on Dirac:

Dirac's best close-up theory:
Once, at a party in Copenhagen, he proposed a theory according to which there must be a certain distance at which a woman's face looks its best. He argued that at ##d\to\infty## one cannot see anything anyway, while at ##d = 0## the oval of the face is deformed because of the small aperture of the human eye, and many other imperfections (such as small wrinkles) become exaggerated. Thus there is a certain optimum distance at which the face looks its best.
Tell me, Paul, how close have you ever seen a woman’s face?
[asked Gamow]
Oh, about that close.
replied Dirac, holding his palms about two feet apart.

On Wigner's sister:
Several years later Dirac married "Wigner's sister," so known among the physicists because she was the sister of the noted Hungarian theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner. When one of Dirac’s old friends, who had not yet heard of the marriage, dropped into his home he found with Dirac an attractive woman who served tea and then sat down comfortably on a sofa.
How do you do!
said the friend, wondering who the woman might be. Dirac exclaimed,
Oh! I am sorry. I forgot to introduce you. This is... this is Wigner’s sister.

Dirac's review on Russian literature:
Another example of Dirac’s acute observation has a literary flavor. His friend Peter Kapitza, the Russian physicist, 'gave him an English translation of Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment.
Well, how do you like it?
asked Kapitza when Dirac returned the book.
It is nice, but in one of the chapters the author made a mistake. He describes the Sun as rising twice on the same day.
This was his one and only comment on Dostoevski's novel.
Gamow adds that he did not bother to check when that happens in the book.

On the topological completeness of knitting:
Another time, visiting Kapitza’s home, Dirac was watching Anya Kapitza knitting while he was talking physics to Peter. A couple of hours after he left, Dirac rushed back, very excited.
You know, Anya, watching the way you were making this sweater I got interested in the topological aspect of the problem. I found that there is another way of doing it and that there are only two possible ways. One is the one you were using; another is like that...
And he demonstrated the other way, using his long thin fingers. His newly discovered "other way," Anya informed him, is well known to women and is none other than “purling."

From Gamow, Thirty Years that Shook Physics.
 
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  • #143
On the via Panisperna boys:

During the 1920-1930, in Sapienza University (Rome, Italy) there was this group of young physics researchers called the via Panisperna boys, composed of all the famous Italian nuclear physicists of the time: Enrico Fermi, Edoardo Amaldi, Oscar D'Agostino, Ettore Majorana, Bruno Pontecorvo, Franco Rasetti and Emilio Segrè (7 years difference between the oldest and the youngest).

Physics was their passion, but they also loved tennis and hiking. A student, Laura (who ended up marrying Fermi) said that she was lucky, one day she had to pass an oral exam with Fermi and Rasetti, the toughest teachers in the university, but they were delayed because they were locked in a tennis match, so Laura got an examination with a more soft-hearted teacher.

The boys also loved to give each other challenges. Another student, Ginestra (who ended up marrying Amaldi) started to join the boys' informal lectures because she said that she learned more with them. Fermi noticed that she was becoming part of the group and Fermi explained that she had to pass a test:
Don't be scared, all we do here is to play a game. We call it the game of the two lire. Any body can ask a question to anybody else. The person who does not give the right answer pays one lira. But if the one who asked the question cannot provide a satisfactory answer, then he pays two lire. As you can see, it's all very simple. Now let's start. Who
has a question for Miss Giovene?
Amaldi raised his hand, he had a question for her:
As you know, the boiling point of oil is higher than the melting point of tin. How can you explain it is possible to fry in olive oil inside a tinned skillet?
Most Italian skillets of the time were made of tin-lined copper.

After not-so-long time Ginestra came up with the answer! Can you physics-trained users guess? Take your time. Answer behind the spoiler tag:
Ginestra said:
Oil does not boil when frying! It's the water in the food that boils!

From Laura Fermi, Atoms in the Family.
 
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  • #144
from https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/the-origin-of-the-word-quark/

According to Gell-Mann’s book, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, the tail was wagging the dog. “When I assigned the name “quark” to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon,” he writes, “I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been ‘kwork.’”

Luckily, Gell-Mann had a bit of a literary bent: “In one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word ‘quark.’” The line was:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.


But quark didn’t sound quite like the kwork that was ringing in Gell-Mann’s head. The physicist took a little creative license, and reimagined the line as a call for drinks at the bar:

Three quarts for Muster Mark!

With this adjustment, writes Gell-Mann, pronouncing the word like kwork “would not be totally unjustified.” The reference to the number three was fitting as well, since “the recipe for making a neutron or proton out of quarks is, roughly speaking, ‘Take three quarks.’”

So, should we be saying quark or kwork? The dispute over the nature of matter that began with Aristotle may be settled, but this is one debate that hasn’t yet been put to bed—in a survey, 76 percent of Science Diction readers who voted said they’re sticking with quark, and 24 percent are with Gell-Mann, and say kwork.
 
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  • #145
Paul Dirac was well known for his strange personality, this included rarely speaking unless he was asked a direct question and then giving the concise precise answer.

His colleagues at Cambridge coined a term called the "Dirac" which was one word per hour, "the smallest imaginable number of words that someone with the power of speech could utter in company." (Quote Graham Farmelo - author of "The Strangest Man - The hidden life of Paul Dirac.")
 
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  • #147
pinball1970 said:
from https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/the-origin-of-the-word-quark/

According to Gell-Mann’s book, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, the tail was wagging the dog. “When I assigned the name “quark” to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon,” he writes, “I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been ‘kwork.’”

Luckily, Gell-Mann had a bit of a literary bent: “In one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word ‘quark.’” The line was:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.


But quark didn’t sound quite like the kwork that was ringing in Gell-Mann’s head. The physicist took a little creative license, and reimagined the line as a call for drinks at the bar:

Three quarts for Muster Mark!

With this adjustment, writes Gell-Mann, pronouncing the word like kwork “would not be totally unjustified.” The reference to the number three was fitting as well, since “the recipe for making a neutron or proton out of quarks is, roughly speaking, ‘Take three quarks.’”

So, should we be saying quark or kwork? The dispute over the nature of matter that began with Aristotle may be settled, but this is one debate that hasn’t yet been put to bed—in a survey, 76 percent of Science Diction readers who voted said they’re sticking with quark, and 24 percent are with Gell-Mann, and say kwork.
I knew about the origin but I did not knew there was a debate about its pronunciation!

Also something that most people do not know is that Finnegans Wake is (at least to first order approximation) total nonsense. Any phrase in that book could have been chosen for the name of a new particle. It's like getting inspiration from the Jabberwocky poem of Alice in Wonderland.
 
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  • #148
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  • #149
pines-demon said:
Also something that most people do not know is that Finnegans Wake is (at least to first order approximation) total nonsense. Any phrase in that book could have been chosen for the name of a new particle. It's like getting inspiration from the Jabberwocky poem of Alice in Wonderland.
Jabberwocky is the only Monty python film I did not like.

Yes we can speculate about the spectrum with certain scientists but once they are gone it is impossible to pin that down.

Dirac probably suffered mental abuse from his father in terms of how we would describe it now.
I recommend 'the strangest man' mentioned previously.
 
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  • #150
Peter Pans of the human race

Jeremy Bernstein's Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos has a collection of anecdotes on child prodigies who became physicists. According to him, Isidor Rabi said
I think physicists are the Peter Pans of the human race. They never grow up, and they keep their curiosity.

Hans Bethe's childhood:
I was interested in numbers from a very early age. When I was five, I said to my mother on a walk one day,
Isn’t it strange that if a zero comes at the end of a number it means a lot but if it is at the beginning of a number it doesn’t mean anything?
And one day when I was about four, Richard Ewald, a professor of physiology, who was my father’s boss, asked me on the street,
What is .5 divided by 2?
I answered,
Dear Uncle Ewald, that I don’t know.
but the next time I saw him I ran to him and said,
Uncle Ewald, it’s .25
I knew about decimals then. When I was seven I learned about powers, and filled a whole book with the powers of two or three.

Stanislaw Ulam childhood:
I had mathematical curiosity very early. My father had in his library a wonderful series of German paperback books —Reklam, they were called. One was Euler’s Algebra. I looked at it when I was perhaps ten or eleven, and it gave me a mysterious feeling. The symbols looked like magic signs. I wondered whether one day I would understand them. This probably contributed to the development of my mathematical curiosity. I discovered by myself how to solve quadratic equations. I remember that I did this by an incredible concentration and almost painful and not-quite conscious effort. What I did amounted to completing the square in my head without paper or pencil.
Bernstein also retells how Ulam tried to teach himself special relativity when he was ten.

Emilio Sègre on Enrico Fermi's:
Fermi told me that one of his great intellectual efforts was his attempt to understand — at the age of ten — what was meant by the statement that the equation ##x^2 + y^2 = r^2## represents a circle. Someone must have stated the fact to him, but he had to discover its meaning by himself.

Ernst Mach mechanical epiphany:
There was a turning point in my fifth year. Up to that time I represented to myself everything I did not understand — a pianoforte, for instance — as simply a motley assemblage of the most wonderful things, to which I ascribed the sound of the notes. That the pressed key struck the chord with the hammer did not occur to me. Then one day I saw a windmill.

We [Ernst and his sister Octavia] had to bring a message to the miller. Upon our arrival the mill had just begun to work. The terrible noise frightened me, but did not hinder me from watching the teeth of the shaft which meshed with the gear of the grinding mechanism and moved on one tooth after another. This sight remained until I reached a more mature level, and in my opinion, raised my childlike thinking from the level of the wonder-believing savage to causal thinking; from now on, in order to understand the unintelligible, I no longer imagined magic things in the background but traced in a broken toy the cord or lever which had caused the effect.

Richard Feynman's dominoes:
When I was just a little kid, very small in a high chair, [my father] brought home a lot of tiles, little bathroom tiles — seconds of different colors... We played with them, setting them out like dominoes, I mean vertically, on my high chair ... so they tell me this anyway... and when we’d got them all set up I would push one end so that they would all go down. Then after a while I’d help to set them up in a more complicated way... two white tiles and a blue tile, two white tiles and a blue tile... and when my mother complained,
Leave the poor child alone, if he wants to put a blue tile, let him put a blue tile,
he said,
No, I want to show him what patterns are like and how interesting they are as it’s a kind of mathematics.

William Stukeley on Isaac Newton:
Every one that knew Sir Isaac, or have heard of him, recount the pregnancy of his parts when a boy, his strange inventions, and extraordinary inclination for mechanics. That instead of playing among the other boys, when from school, he always busied himself in making knick-knacks and models of wood in many kinds. For which purposes he had got little saws, hatchets, hammers, and a whole shop of tools, which he would use with great dexterity. In particular they speak of his making a wooden clock. About this time a new windmill [shades of Mach!] was set up near Grantham, in the way to Gunnerby, which is now demolished, this country chiefly using water mills. Our lad’s imitating spirit was soon excited, and by frequently prying into the fabric of it, as they were making it, he became master enough to make a very perfect model thereof, and it was said to be as clean and curious a piece of workmanship as the original. This sometimes he would set upon the house-top where he lodged, and clothing it with sail-cloth, the wind would really take it; but what was most extraordinary in its composition was, that he put a mouse into it, which he called the miller, and that mouse made the mill turn round when he pleased.

Albert Einstein talking about when he was 4-5 about a compass:
That this needle behaved in such a determined way did not at all fit into the nature of events, which could find a place in the unconscious world of concepts (effect connected with direct ‘touch’). I can still remember — or at least I believe I can remember — that this experience made a deep and lasting impression upon me. Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.
Bernstein also says that Einstein came up with a proof of the Pythagorean theorem when he was twelve.

Bernstein on Freeman Dyson:
I once asked Freeman Dyson if he could recall his earliest mathematical memories. He told me that, among them, was a time when he was still being put down for naps in the afternoon — he was not exactly sure of the age, but less than ten — and he began adding up numbers like ##1 + \tfrac{1}{2}+ \tfrac{1}{4}+ \tfrac{1}{8}+ \cdots## and realized that this series was adding up to 2. In other words, he had discovered for himself the notion of the convergent infinite series.

Bernstein on Isidor Rabi:
Here is what Rabi told me when I asked him if some childhood experience turned him toward science:
Yes, a very profound one. One time, I was walking down the street — looked right down the street, which faced east. The moon was just rising. And it scared the hell out of me! Absolutely scared the hell out of me.
Not long afterward Rabi began reading through — in alphabetical order — all of the books in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library branch near his home. First he began with fiction, reading from Alcott through Trowbridge. Then he came to the science shelf and began with astronomy — a little book on astronomy — which changed his life. Of this, his first encounter with scientific explanation, he told me,
When you have the astronomical explanation, the rising of the moon becomes a sort of non-event.
 
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  • #151
Maxwell was lecturing and, seeing a student dozing off, awakened him, asking “Young man, what is electricity?” “I'm terribly sorry, sir,” the student replied, “I knew the answer but I have forgotten it.” Maxwell's response to the class was, “Gentlemen, you have just witnessed the greatest tragedy in the history of science. The one person who knew what electricity is has forgotten it”
Even today, the words of the French mathematician Henri Poincaré (1854–1912) are reflective of our present knowledge of the nature of electricity: ‘One of the French scientists who has probed Maxwell's work the most deeply said to me one day, “I understand everything in this book [Maxwells' Treatise] except what is meant by a charged sphere”’
https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2017.0448
 
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  • #152
On Rabi's protégé:

One day, Isidor Rabi was reading the EPR paper and this happened:
I was reading the paper, and my way of reading a paper was to bring in a student and explain it to him. In this case the student was Lloyd Motz, who’s now a professor of astronomy at Columbia. We were arguing about something, and after a while Motz says there was someone waiting outside the office, and asked if he could bring him in. He brought in this kid. So I told him to sit down someplace, and he sat down. Motz and I were arguing, and this kid pipes up and settles the argument by the use of the completeness theorem. And I said,
Who the hell is this?
Well, it turned out he was a sophomore at City College, and he was doing very badly — flunking his courses, not in physics, but doing very badly. I talked to him for a while and was deeply impressed. He had already written a paper on quantum electrodynamics. So I asked him if he wanted to transfer, and he said yes. He gave me a transcript, and I looked at it. He was failing — English, and just about everything else. He spoke well. I said,
What's the matter with you? You're flunking English. You speak well, and you sound like an educated person.
He said,
I have no time to do the themes.
The kid was 16-years-old Julian Schwinger.
I tried to get him admitted to Columbia on a scholarship. I saw the director of admissions. He looked at the transcript and said,
A scholarship?
He wouldn't even admit him. Well, Hans Bethe was passing through, and I asked him if he would read Schwinger's paper. He read it and thought well of it. So I asked Bethe to write me a letter. He did. And, armed with this letter, I got Schwinger admitted. He entered Columbia as a junior and actually made Phi Beta Kappa. He turned over a new leaf.

Rabi about Schwinger's habits
At five o'clock, when everybody was leaving, you'd see Schwinger coming in. [I was once told that people would leave unsolved problems on their desks and blackboards, and find when they returned the next morning that Schwinger had solved them.] The problems he solved were just fantastic. He lectured twice a week on his current work. As soon as Schwinger would make an advance, guys all around — Dicke and Ed Purcell would invent things like mad. All sorts of things.
From Jeremy Bernstein, Experiencing Science. See also post #68.
 
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  • #153
Henry A. Rowland is known for his pioneering work on the manufacture of high quality diffraction gratings. A less known experiment of his is the demonstration that a mechanically rotating charged disk produces a magnetic field, equivalent to that of a current in a similarly shaped flat coil.

Maxwell wrote a poem that begins with a shoutout to Rowland:

The mounted disk of ebonite
Has whirled before, nor whirled in vain;
Rowland of Troy, that doughty knight,
Convection currents did obtain
In such a disk, of power to wheedle,
From its loved North the subtle needle.

’Twas when Sir Rowland, as a stage
From Troy to Baltimore, took rest
In Berlin, there old Archimage,
Armed him to follow up this quest;
Right glad to find himself possessor
Of the irrepressible Professor.

One of his graduate students was Edwin Hall, who discovered the Hall effect under Rowland's guidance.
 
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  • #154
That is very interesting! In addition to a flat disk, I wonder if a convex-planar, charged disk was tried? Or a concave transmitting surface? Or if they tried a charged, transmitting surface other than flat? If the magnetic field could be focused? Maybe that's been tried and known, and I am just ignorant of it too.
 
  • #155
difalcojr said:
That is very interesting! In addition to a flat disk, I wonder if a convex-planar, charged disk was tried? Or a concave transmitting surface? Or if they tried a charged, transmitting surface other than flat? If the magnetic field could be focused? Maybe that's been tried and known, and I am just ignorant of it too.
This is a calculation that is often done in undergraduate physics. Maybe open a new thread about it, it might not fit this one....
 
  • #156
Shoes incident:

I found that Wikipedia has a couple of links to Julian Schwinger's "shoes incident". The story goes as so:

Steven Weinberg went to Harvard to take the position that was previously filled by Julien Schwinger after he left for UCLA. Schwinger had left a pair of shoes in his office. Sheldon Glashow made the joke that "they were there to see if Steve could fill them!"

Weinberg vs Schwinger

One day Schwinger came back to Harvard for the defense of his last Harvard student. Weinberg and Helen Quinn were also in the jury. The student was presenting his work on Schwinger's source theory (an alternative to quantum field theory). Weinberg challenged the student, arguing that his calculation could have been done using the usual methods. Schwinger responded back and the debate between the two went on for half an hour!

According to Quinn:
Steve argued that the best theory was one that was so well defined that it could be tested and possibly falsified by experiment, while Julian argued that the best theory was so flexible that it could evolve to accommodate new results. In other words, they were not quite talking the same language. What Julian meant by a new theory was a new formalism, whereas to Steve it meant a new specific instantiation of an already well-developed formalism. But it was fascinating to hear them argue about it.
the student was eventually allowed to continue.

From Weinberg's Physics Today obituary.
 
  • #157
Gamow on the Soviet bullies

George Gamow says about Igor Tamm:
Here is a story told to me by one of my friends who was at that time a young professor of physics in Odessa. His name was Igor Tamm (Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, 1958). Once when he arrived in a neighbouring village, at the period when Odessa was occupied by the Reds, and was negotiating with a villager as to how many chickens he could get for half a dozen silver spoons, the village was captured by one of the Makhno bands, who were roaming the country, harassing the Reds. Seeing his city clothes (or what was left of them), the capturers brought him to the Ataman, a bearded fellow in a tall black fur hat with machine-gun cartridge ribbons crossed on his broad chest and a couple of hand grenades hanging on the belt.
You son-of-a-XXX, you Communistic agitator, undermining our mother Ukraine! The punishment is death.
But no, I am a professor at the University of Odessa and have come here only to get some food.
answered Tamm.
Rubbish! What kind of professor are you?
retorted the leader.
I teach mathematics.
Mathematics? All right! Then give me an estimate of the error one makes by cutting off Maclaurin’s series at the ##n##-th term. Do this and you will go free. Fail, and you will be shot!
said the Ataman. Tamm could not believe his ears, since this problem belongs to a rather special branch of higher mathematics. With a shaking hand, and under the muzzle of the gun, he managed to work out the solution and handed it to the Ataman.
Correct! Now I see that you really are a professor. Go home!
said the Ataman.

Who was this man? No one will ever know. If he was not killed later on, he may well be lecturing now on higher mathematics in some Ukrainian university.
 
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  • #158
In 1934, Enrico Fermi wrote a theoretical paper that was refused by Nature because it "it contained speculations too remote from reality to be of interest to the reader". Fermi had to publish his theory in other languages (Il Nuovo Cimento and Zeitschrift für Physik). It was his paper on Fermi theory, the first paper that explained beta decay and introduced the weak interaction.
 
  • #159
The Alpher–Bethe–Gamow paper (sources wiki and https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200804/physicshistory.cfm)

I don't think this one has been listed yet.

Created by Ralph Alpher, a then physics PhD student, advisors George Gamow and Hans Bethe. The work, which would become the subject of Alpher's PhD dissertation, argued that the Big Bang would create hydrogen, helium and heavier elements in the correct proportions to explain their abundance in the early universe. While the original theory neglected a number of processes important to the formation of heavy elements, subsequent developments showed that Big Bang nucleosynthesis is consistent with the observed constraints on all primordial elements.

Gamow humorously decided to add the name of his friend, the eminent physicist Hans Bethe, to this paper in order to create the whimsical author list of Alpher, Bethe, Gamow, a play on the Greek letters α, β, and γ (alpha, beta, gamma).

The results of these calculations were first announced in a letter to The Physical Review, April 1, 1948. This was signed Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow, and is often referred to as the 'alphabetical article'.

There was, however, a rumor that later, when the alpha, beta, gamma theory went temporarily on the rocks, Dr. Bethe seriously considered changing his name to Zacharias.

Alpher, at the time only a graduate student, was generally dismayed by the inclusion of Bethe's name on this paper. He felt that the inclusion of another eminent physicist would overshadow his personal contribution to this work and prevent him from receiving proper recognition for such an important discovery.

Alpher was awarded his PhD, but his 15 minutes of fame soon ended. After finishing his PhD, he and Robert Herman (who resisted Gamow’s efforts to get him to change his name to Delter) continued work on the early universe. That research led them to predict the cosmic microwave background, but their prediction was ignored, and they were not given credit when the CMB was discovered in 1964. Alpher later became a researcher at General Electric. Gamow went on to study other topics as well, dabbling in the chemistry of DNA. Alpher died in 2007, shortly after receiving the National Medal of Science.
 
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  • #160
I always thought it exceptionally unfair that Alpher and Gamow didn't get the Nobel for the Big Bang prediction while the two experimentalists who got lucky did. According to Richard Feynman the awarding of the Nobel is largely political.
 
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  • #161
The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen: "Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper using a barometer."

One student replied, "You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building."

This highly original answer so incensed the instructor that the student was failed. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case. The arbiter judged that answer was indeed correct, but did not display knowledge of physics. To resolve the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer, which showed at least a minimal familiarity the principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn't make up his mind which to use.

On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows,
"Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer."

"Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper."
"But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the restoring force T = 2 pi sq. root (l /g)."

"Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up."

"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into meters to give the height of the building."

"But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor's door and say to him 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."

The student was Niels Bohr.

(I knew the story and had it here: https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/match-the-scientist-with-the-story/ but took the wording now from https://www.facebook.com/dennis.presiloski.)
 
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  • #162
fresh_42 said:
The student was Niels Bohr.
This story is strongly associated with Bohr but it is apocryphal. See Wikipedia: Barometer question.
 
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  • #163
Did Einstein win the Nobel Prize? When? (1921? 1922? 1923?)

Einstein got nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics, every year from 1910 to 1922. It is known that Einstein received his prize for explaining the photoelectric effect (and for his services to theoretical physics, no more details, why was relativity not acknowledged?), however it is less known when did Einstein get the prize really.

The official date is October 1921, you can confirm that in the Nobel Foundation website. However this is far from the truth. The Nobel Committee was not able to decide a winner for October 1921, so nobody won that year.

Usually a winner is confirmed in October and the ceremony to receive the prize is in December. Due to much internal debate on the matter of relativity 1921 did not have a Nobel Prize. The statuses of the Nobel Prize allow to recast the vote for the following year if not candidate gets consensus. Planck managed to convince the committee to retroactively nominate Einstein for 1921 and Bohr for 1922.

Confirmation of 1922: Max von Laue adviced Einstein to stay in Europe until September. Late 1922, the Nobel Foundation sent a telegram to Einstein confirming that he got the "1921" Nobel Prize. However, Einstein was not able to receive it, he did not follow von Laue's advice and went on a trip to Japan! He will not comeback until March 1923! Note that in 1922, Einstein's friend Walther Rathenau was assassinated, so maybe Einstein wanted to avoid staying in Germany.

Who received the prize in December 1922: During the Nobel ceremony of 1922, somebody had to receive the prize in behalf of Einstein. However, who to pick depended on his nationality. Einstein had payed for a paper to say he was no longer German and travelled only with his Swiss passport. The Swiss ambassador was going to receive the prize, but the German ambassador Rudolf Nadolny argued against it. Einstein was part of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, which had only German members. Nadolny received the prize and in the records Einstein appears as German. When Einstein came back from Japan, he and his stepdaughter Ilse asked formally to receive the prize from the Swiss ambassador.

A case for 1923? So it is clear by now that Einstein got his hands on the prize in March 1923. Another event to know is that in order to get the prize you need to make an official lecture on your work. Einstein did go to Sweden to give a lecture in July 1923, but was held in Göteborg in front of the Nordic Assembly of Naturalists and not in the Stockholm's Royal Swedish Society. The Nobel Foundation accepted it as an overdue lecture, but as Einstein discussed only relativity, the following note was added:
The Lecture was not delivered on the occasion of the Nobel Prize award, and did not, therefore, concern the discovery of the photoelectric effect.
As for the money? Einstein transferred it to his first wife Mileva Maric. They have arranged a divorce under the condition that Einstein gave him the entirety of the Nobel Prize money when he would get it. Maric bought real state in Zurich with it.

From P. B. Pal “The incredibly strange story of Einstein’s Nobel prize” (2021) https://arxiv.org/pdf/2112.13519
 
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  • #164
Hornbein said:
I always thought it exceptionally unfair that Alpher and Gamow didn't get the Nobel for the Big Bang prediction while the two experimentalists who got lucky did. According to Richard Feynman the awarding of the Nobel is largely political.
It should have been given to Alpher, Bethe, Gamov. The names are just perfect for the question about the beginning of the universe.
 
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  • #166
pines-demon said:
Did Einstein win the Nobel Prize? When? (1921? 1922? 1923?)
Max-Planck-und-Albert-Einstein.jpg
Earlier anecdote missed this story of Einstein and the Planck Medal (I did not include it because it was not about the Nobel Prize):

The Planck medal is the highest award of the German Physical Society. It was instituted in 1929, and Einstein was the recipient of the inaugural year. The day of the award,he did some work in the morning and went to the house of his doctor friend, János Plesch, for lunch. After lunch, he fell asleep on a couch. He got up at four. The ceremony was supposed to begin at five. Suddenly he realized that he might be asked to speak at the occasion. So he sat down at Plesch’s table, and grabbed the nearest piece of paper, which happened to be a bootmaker’s bill. He scribbled on it for twenty minutes. Half an hour later, when Planck awarded the medal to him, he said, in his acceptance speech, that he knew that he would be overwhelmed after receiving the prize and would be at a loss for words, so he had written down his speech, and would read it out. He pulled the shoe bill from his waistcoat pocket and started reading. After the speech, Plesch told him that he needed the bill back. Einstein reached in his pocket, pulled the bill and the medal that was wrapped in it, and gave the whole thing to Plesch. Plesch wrote,
He never took it out, and never looked at it again.

Photo: from Wikipedia Max Planck Medal.
 
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  • #167
Then there's Bob Dylan, who couldn't be bothered to appear in person to collect his Nobel Prize.

But he wasn't a physicist.
 

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