A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
The following images relating to chemistry were found in the illustration volumes of Abraham Rees' (1743-1825) great work, Cyclopædia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature. This was a massive undertaking for Rees, but his leadership and editorial skills were up to the task--in the end, 39 volumes were published containing nearly 40 million words, plus another six thick volumes contained the engraved illustrations to the monograph-length articles. They are marvelous images, full of detail, and beautifully designed. This fine example on electricity contains several gorgeous tiny details, including the following:
I'm pretty sure that we don't need to establish here the intellectual history of Albert Einstein's miracle year of 1905. What I don't normally see are the first mentions of the papers in English, and among the earliest reports there appear in Science Abstracts, Section A--it wasn't until 1920 that the papers were first fully translated into English by M. N. Saha and S. N. Bose as The principle of relativity : original papers by A. Einstein and H. Minkowski, and published by the University of Calcutta.
And so here they are--I only have the first three of the four papers from the Abstracts, as I don't have the second 1905 volume in which the last paper appears.This series was published in London by E. & F.N. Spon (Ltd.) and is the physics volume for the abstracts of scientific papers published in dozens of the world's leading journals, and was/is a standard reference tool. '
Here's an interesting combination of sweat and electricity--an enormous electrical device that was on display in an exhibit of "natural magic" at the Colosseum in Regent's Park in 1839. The large disk that the two guys are turning is actually larger in real life, being 7' in diameter, the conductor being varnished copper, and the conducting balls being gilded--it must have been a very shiny experience, especially when they generated their electric spark. In 1839 this was the largest electrical generating device in the world. (I have a tiny version of that device here, something made out of old records coated with copper and found ball glasses acting as Leyden jars, all painted and varnished, the work of an 8 year old in 1925 who went on to a career in astronomy and became the most celebrated eclipse follower in the mid 20th century.)
This monster is made just 39 years after Volta's first battery was made, and not long after Oersted generated the first magnetic field from an electric current in 1820, the same year as Ampere's solenoid. There were many quick and brilliant development from then to 1839 (also the year in which Daguerre perfected his collaborative work with Niepce to produce the photographic camera), not the least of which was the Davidson's creation of the first electric motor car/land locomotive, again in that same full year of 1839:
[Image source: A. du Moncel Electricity as a Motive Power, 1883, page 55, full text from the Internet Archive, here.]
It really is a rare thing to open a book and find it full of significant contributions by numerous people occurring in situ as it were--not an intentional collection of greats, but a "serendipitous one. In this case the find occurred in one bound volume of the American Physical Society's Review of Modern Physics--a single volume containing two years of papers for 1945 and 1946. I've seen this a number of times--as with bound volumes for The Physical Review for 1932, and 1939 and 1948, for example--and it is always a pleasure to watch the great epic of those years roll out as you leaf your way through the volume.
And so it happens with volume 17 and 18 of the Reviews1, the greatest interest in this volume is no doubt the multiple blockbuster of contributors for the commemoration of Niels Bohr's birthday, in Volume 17/2, April-July 1945, pp 97-350, "In Commemoration of the Sixtieth Birthday of Niels Bohr, October Seventh, 1945”. The field is full of the major names (and Nobel Prize recipients) of physics in the 20th century. These include Bloch, Born, Chandrasekhar, Dirac, Einstein, Feynman, Gamow, Goudsmit, Heitler, Hevesy, London, Meitner, Pauli, Rabi, Van Vleck, Weisskopf, Wheeler, and others, a full-ish list of the papers is included below. (The Wheeler-Feynman paper is significant on its own and highly cited.)
This volume is available for purchase at the blog's bookstore, here.
James Chadwick's introduction of the existence of the neutron made a "sly" entry into the general/popular scientific world--if such things could have personalities, then it would certainly be "humble". Except of course "humble" has no place in this vocabulary, except for instance like this, interpreting the poetry of the moment. Chadwiock's "Possible Existence of a Neutron" appeared inNature, 27 February 1932. volume 129, the revolutionary contribution appearing as a Letter to the Editor, in 1.25 columns, on page 312 of this issue of the journal. And in the "tradition" of the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper (the great paper on the Big Bang, appearing on April 1st 1948 in the Physical Review), it is another of very many instances of a major announcement being made as a "simple" letter to the editor. (Well, in the case of scientific letters, this is really just a shorter, quicker-to-publication avenue to publication, and not much at all like a letter-to-the-editor of the NYT. Still, the description has a nice ring to it.) This was the description of the neutron made after only about two weeks of experimentation.
"In 1932, Chadwick made a fundamental discovery in the domain of nuclear science: he proved the existence ofneutrons - elementary particles devoid of any electrical charge. In contrast with the helium nuclei (alpha rays) which are charged, and therefore repelled by the considerable electrical forces present in the nuclei of heavy atoms, this new tool in atomic disintegration need not overcome any electric barrier and is capable of penetrating and splitting the nuclei of even the heaviest elements. Chadwick in this way prepared the way towards the fission of uranium 235 and towards the creation of the atomic bomb."--NobelPrize.org
His next paper1--and perhaps the more famous of the two--appeared a few months later in May and contained the proof of the existence of the neutron, and was an epochal achievement int he understanding of the nucleus.
For this epoch-making discovery he was awarded the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society in 1932, and then the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1935. I think he may be the only recipient of the award who was also at one time a POW. (1914-1918 in Chadwick's case, going from there to a Ph.D. at Cambridge in 1921 and then to Rutherford's assistant shortly thereafter.)
Chadwick, J. (1932). "The Existence of a Neutron". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences136 (830): 692. Another paper appeared int he next year,(1933). "Bakerian Lecture. The Neutron". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering
I had never seen this video/film before last night--it is pretty solid, and interesting, and I'm a little surprised because for a general-public sort of production it makes some good-sized presumptions of its audience in relation to any physics background. Most of all though there are appearances of Albert Einstein (at 52:15 and 1:01:14), Otto Frisch (1:03:00) and J.D. Cockcroft (1:17:50).
Source: U.S. National Archives http://research.archives.gov/description/88106
Here's an interesting set of delightful photographs (and one painting) of some great scientists as babies and kids. Many of them are obvious, I think, and you can see their developed and mature faces in themselves from very early on. For example in the first photo is Niels Bohr, his arched eyebrows and halfways-kinda-grin already there at age 4 or 5. Paul Dirac is gorgeous as a kid and he keeps those eyes throughout his life. The Einstein is an uncommon images, plucking him from a class photo--I guess you can see him in there, somewhere, though it isn't as Einstein-y as some of the other early photos of him where his eyes are just unmistakable. Feynman looks like Feynman, sly and smart-as-hell; and the impish and sparkling Turing seems as he would be decades on. On the other hand the fabulous Kurt Goedel baby could be almost anyone--though I have to say it isn't often you see photos with the baby's arm raised.
Four of these came from a very nice post on exactly this topic at Kuriositas: (http://www.kuriositas.com/2011/10/famous-scientists-as-children.html) though even at the outset there are more science babies and kids together here than I can find elsewhere.
Niels Bohr, 1890, age about 5. Source: http://www.nbi.ku.dk/english/www/niels/bohr/barndom/
Years ago when I still had a big, open bookstore specializing in books in used/rare physics/maths I had several bookcases dedicated to quantum mechanics. In general I had the standard works and great classics, and few were more "standard" and "classic" at the same time than P.A.M. Dirac's Principles of Quantum Mechanics.
On rare occasions I would have all four editions (the first of 1930 is very scarce and valuable nowadays) but usually there would be editions 2, 3, and 4. In order to respond intelligently to the differences between the editions I went to the library and photocopied reviews of each (this in the pre-intertubeweb days). Today I managed to bump into the most interesting of the reviews (for the second edition of 1935 and published in the September 14, 1935 issue of Nature) which I reproduce below.
[Caption: "M. Painlevé fait lui-même la police afin d'empêcher l'entrée d'un public trop nombreux venu pour écouter M. Einstein : [photographie de presse] / Agence Meurisse" Source: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b90546608.r=einstein.langEN]
Here's a photo regarding Einstein that I've never seen before: an image showing a crowd evidently being turned away from the over-capacity lectures by Einstein in Paris. The photo is undated but it must be from when Einstein was invited to Paris by the College de France (under the guidance and leadership of physicist Paul Langevin (1872-1946)) to give lectures and talks beginning March 31, 1922. Einstein was at the Sorbonne just a week later, on the 6th of April, where he also lectured. The photograph mentions "M. Painleve" (1863-1933), who was Prime Minister of France very briefly on two occasions and also a professor at the Sorbonne, so I assume that it is at the Sorbonne where this picture was probably made. I know for certain that attendance at the lectures at the College de France was by ticket only and which were scarce and did not meet demand, and I assume that the same was possible at the Sorbonne. (Since I have no familiarity with the Sorbonne looks like I assume that anyone who did would be able to tell me exactly where this entrance is...)
The trip wasn't just roses for Einstein or the French or the Germans (in general)--this was just four years after the war and there were certain "patriotic" factions within France that did not want Einstein (the German) there; conversely there were also some elements in Germany who did not want Einstein to go to France. Einstein certainly had a lot on his mind for this trip, not the least of which was lecturing in French--though in that regard I remember reading that he said that "equations helped' or something along those lines.
I admit to making some impressive typos and even though I'm pretty diligent about finding all of my reversed letters many will still slip through my broken and tangled editing nets--but this one, the typo I found above, is really a typo of Enormous Dignity.
When I first saw this I thought, well, there were a couple of other published Einsteins at this time who were not our Albert, but I wasn't aware of an "E.Einstein" writing in physics, and also writing in A. Einstein's area. But then I opened the pamphlet and saw that, yes, indeed, in 1931 someone had goofed and the name of the world's most famous physicist (and perhaps "person") appeared on the cover of a physics journal in a not-quite-right manner. Unfortunately, it was also the inaugural issue of Annales de L'Institut Henri Poincare (published in Paris in 1931). Perhaps it was the ghost of the great mathematician/physicist/everything man, Poincare himself, who ruled over the situation, as he and Einstein didn't quite "get along". after all there was very little that one had to do with the other, in spite of their standings. And even though Poincare died in 1912, Einstein had his monumental year seven years earlier and had a number of highly important publication in the following years. He was so wel though of in fact that Einstein was approached to write the great Poincare's obituary (for a journal that I do not recall presently), but Einstein declined. Perhaps it was the Dreyfus Affair and the underlying causes of it? I don't know. But I do know that someone really got Einstein's name wrong, somehow, on the cover of the journal's first issue. Fermi and Darwin appear with Einstein on the cover and their initials are correct. But not Herr Einstein.
Jakob Laub--the first collaborator of Albert Einstein--wrote one of the earliest histories/retrospectives of relativity theory for the Jahrbuch der Radioaktivitat und Electronik in volume 7 for 1910: "Uber die experimentellen Grundlagen des Relativitatsprinzips", pp 405-463. (It seems that I don't often see/notice references on this level citing the first German edition of an integral work in another language, which Laub does here for example in two articles by Fizeau that he found in Annalen when their original publication took place in the Comptes Rendus.) (See the reference for Laub in Physics Before and After Einstein edited by M. Mamone Cap; also The Scientist as Philosopher: Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific ...by F. Weinert.
This paper also contains a 127-item bibliography, which I cannot find online and which I reproduce below.
On Laub, from the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 17:
"Laub attended gymnasium in Rzeszόw. In 1902, after studying briefly at the universities of Cracow and Vienna, he entered the University of Göttingen as a student of mathematics and physics. There, taking courses and seminars with David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski, he became interested in the electron theory. He turned to experiment, and in 1905 he decided to work with Wilhelm Wien at Würzburg. Laub’s doctoral dissertation (1907) concerned secondary cathode-ray emission. At his oral defense (1906), he introduced Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which Wien had recommended to him in September 1905. For the next several years Laub remained at Würzburg and concentrated on extending Einstein’s ideas."
"Although by early 1908 Einstein was attracting notice from distinguished physicists, he had not yet received a university appointment. It was an unusual step, then, when in February 1908 Laub wrote to Einstein to ask if he could visit Bern to study relativity with him. Laub became Einstein’s first scientific collaborator. Together they published articles criticizing Minkowski’s notion of electromagnetic force and suggesting an experiment to decide between Einstein’s special relativity and Hendrik Lorentz’s electron theory."
Years ago I phone-met the physicist Al Wattenberg. He started his long and fine career under the bleachers at the University of Chicago, working with Enrico Fermi where on December 2, 1942, they achieved the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. (The moment was celebrated with a bottle of Chianti donated by Eugene Wigner, and it was signed by all those present at the creation. It turned out that Wattenberg was the last man to leave the area, and he saw the abandoned Chianti bottle and rescued it--he gave it to the Argonne National Lab where it lives to this day.)
One day I asked him about Fermi and what he was like when he wasn't working. Wattenberg said that he used to play tennis with Fermi, who (paraphrasing here) played tennis like he did physics--meticulous, methodical, careful. He said he was frustrating to play with, and he never beat Fermi at the game.
I like these offbeat cross-interest metaphors for explaining complicated things. And it was this thinking that brought me to Oppenheimer and the New York Yankees--and that Boston team--in the hope of dislodging a little piece of insight that might come from comparing disparate things. And so far as I can tell discussing Robert Oppenheimer in terms of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio doesn't get very much red carpet room as an idea, and I suspect that there are good reasons for it.
Let's face it—Robert Oppenheimer left his theoretical physics career sorta behind when he went to win the war at Los Alamos in 1943. I was surprised to see today that his publishing career for the hard stuff stopped around 1950 He was an absolute brilliant light when he started out in 1926, and a massive influence in his field by 1940.
Here's what the production looked like:
1926-29: 16 papers
1930-39 36 papers
1940-42 10 papers
Which makes 62 papers for the 1926-1942 period . After the war, from 1946-50, there were five papers. And after that, none. That's not to say that he didn't publish, because he did, and was prolific—it was just a different career. Also from 1926-1942 he was a theoretical physicist with wholly different responsibilities than those he would take on in 1942, when he became not only the brilliant physicist but also the brilliant administrator/director/curator, working an almost-impossible job with thousands of creative people and the U.S. Army in shacks in the desert trying to beat the Nazis to a bomb that would end the war.
After the war Oppenheimer helped to formulate the direction of physics in the U.S., leading Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study as its director; then he helped formulate American nuclear policy going into the Cold War as the Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission. And then there was the great tragedy of his "security hearings” (1954) which crushed him on a McCarthyite slab, costing him much of the rest of his career. And then he was dead in 1967.
Had he not gone to war, had he not taken the job only he could have done, what would he have become? His accomplishments were already large--the Born-Oppenheimer approximation, Oppenheimer-Phillips process, neutron stars, quantum tunneling. More than likely one of the things he would be well known for today would be his development of the discovery and understanding of black holes—a singularity that he discovered in with in a paper called printed in Physical Review on September 1, 1939, but this was somewhat premature for the time. And then came the war.
Millions of other people went to war, too, stopping their lives on one end, starting a new life on the other, and then returning to their previous lives with varying degrees of retention or creation. Two of those folks were Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
Ted Williams went to war too, from 1943-1945. Williams just started out in his brilliant career hitting .406 in ; then two years later, he was gone. Williams was 24-26 years old for the war. Oppenheimer 38-40, though Ted got to play from 1946-1960 when he came back, absent a year that he spent as a Marine fighter pilot during the Korean War (“strafing Commies”). No doubt Williams would have piled up the numbers in a big way had he played ball in those four years
Then there's Joe DiMaggio, who also served for those years when he was 28-30. He had finished up seven years with the Yankees before he left, brilliant—perhaps the most stellar thing about it all (long pointed out to me by my friend, Mr. Baseball, Andy Moursund) was that he hit 219 home runs while striking out 196 times in 7 years. His batting averages were very high, and he was a slugger, and he didn't walk all that much compared to Williams. This seems more in-line with Oppenheimer—a different sort of precision, one where DiMaggio hit for power and rarely didn't hit anything at all, going up swinging but rarely going down swinging at nothing on the third strike. Although he was relatively young went he left for the war, he came back at 30, and played another 6 years,
It may be too weird or nonsensical to think of these sorts of things, let alone thinking of Oppenheimer in units of Joe DiMaggios, especially since Oppenheimer knew/cared nothing about sports2. Plus in the alternative histories world we really can't express the potentials of missing years, especially in terms of metaphors from non-related entities.
On the other hand, I did create a physicists vs. mathematicians chess set, matching up people with what their possible position of the board might be, we can probably Oppenheimer to his baseball equivalent.
Perhaps this is also my pneumonia talking rather than my brain, what with Spring Training approaching, and perhaps this was all useless--but for some reason if Oppenheimer suddenly appeared out in the front yard wearing a baseball jersey, I'd see him in pinstripes, with a "5" on his back.
This fine, geometrical wooden apparatus was made by electrician and physicist Sylvanus P. Thompson (1851-1911)--two metres long, the model was for a demonstration before the Physical Society of London, "illustrat(ing) the propagation of a transverse wave". The image appeared in Nature, August 12, 1897.
“It is concluded that the sun's gravitational field gives the deflection predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.”
I've bumped into a famous piece of phsyics history, a semi-popular report on the verification of the Einstein theory of general relativity. The article is “Eclipse Photographs Verify Einstein's Prediction” adn is found in Popular Astronomy (published in Northfield Minnesota, volume 28, 1920, the issue for January, #1, 1920, with the notice appearing on pp 69-70.) At about the same time there appears the famous and deciding report by F. W. Dyson, A. S. Eddington, and C. Davidson, "A Determination of the Deflection of Light by the Sun's Gravitational Field, from Observations Made at the Total Eclipse of May 29, 1919" which appeared in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Containing Papers of a Mathematical or Physical Character for 1920 (pp 291-332). This is the integral report on which Popular Astronomy reports on for a more general astronomy readership.
This report repeats the famous finding: “It is concluded that the sun's gravitational field gives the deflection predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.”