Physics History

  • #1
One of my professors told me a story about a physicist and I can't remember who it was. It's driving me crazy. This is what I remember about the story.

Apparently this physicist was a new faculty member and he had a seemingly brilliant plan for some experiment. All of the older faculty members got behind him and helped him build the experiment. There was a lot of hype, but the experiment ultimately did not produce the expected results. One of the older faculty told this younger physicist that "the way things are is always more interesting than the way we thought they were", or something to that extent.

The physicist in the story is famous, maybe a Nobel Prize winner later in life, but I just can't remember who it was about and what the experiment was. I googled the quote, but it must be worded differently or something.

If anyone has any ideas, I would love to know.

Thanks!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
turin
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Now it's driving me crazy, too. I vaguely remember hearing about that. I immediately thought of Rutherford, or one of his students rather, but I can't find anything about unexpected experimental results. I'll keep looking a bit.

Other thoughts: maybe something to do with the muon or pion, or maybe Feynman.

Maybe solar neutrino deficiency. I'm still looking (and going quite mad).
 
Last edited:
  • #3
berkeman
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One of my professors told me a story about a physicist and I can't remember who it was. It's driving me crazy. This is what I remember about the story.

Apparently this physicist was a new faculty member and he had a seemingly brilliant plan for some experiment. All of the older faculty members got behind him and helped him build the experiment. There was a lot of hype, but the experiment ultimately did not produce the expected results. One of the older faculty told this younger physicist that "the way things are is always more interesting than the way we thought they were", or something to that extent.

The physicist in the story is famous, maybe a Nobel Prize winner later in life, but I just can't remember who it was about and what the experiment was. I googled the quote, but it must be worded differently or something.

If anyone has any ideas, I would love to know.

Thanks!
I googled your quoted string, and got two hits. The first hit was to this PF thread of yours (not a surprise), and the 2nd hit was to the Compton Effect:

http://www.google.com/search?source...eresting+than+the+way+we+thought+they+were",+

.
 
  • #4
Yes, that link is perfect! I never tried googling the exact quote because I assumed my version of the quote was off, but I underestimated my own memory. It was definitely Compton. Here is a quote from the source cited above:

Compton wanted to test an old theory of Wilhelm Weber’s that regarded the atom as the ”ultimate magnetic particle,” as Compton called it. To do so, he reflected X rays from a magnetite crystal, turned a superposed magnetic field on and off, and looked to see if there was any change in position of a Laue diffraction spot caused by a shift of the magnetite atoms in their lattice sites. Try as he might, the diffraction spot never moved; it stayed right where it was. ”My heart sank,” Compton recalled, but just then the chairman of the department, ”a tall slender gentleman with the good Minnesota name of Henry Erikson,” walked in. Compton explained his depressing negative result to Erikson. ”Well, Compton,” Erikson responded, with a friendly slap on his shoulder, ”the way things are is always more interesting than the way we thought they were.” That, said Compton, was one of the best lessons in the understanding of science that I have ever had. The mistaken notion is to get some idea and then try to prove it· · ·. The real thing that a scientist tries to do when he is faced with a phenomenon is to attempt to understand it. To do that he tries all the possible answers that he can think of to see which one of them works best.
 

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