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
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.”
I bumped in this issue of Nature (volume 106, pp782–784) this evening, and as it turns out it is the "Special Number: Relativity" and published February 17, 1921--and it is packed. Somehow when I first looked at this weekly I mega-missed the Einstein entry--as is customary I work back-to-front, bottom-to-top (don't ask) and was so taken by the collection of Big Names that Einstein's escaped me. Einstein's article is longish for this journal and concise, with numerous references in the influencing forces in his development of the theory of relativity (which he capitalizes).
The table of contents for this single week--though it is (roughly) a double issue of thirty pages or so--incoudes work by Cunningham, Frank Dyson, James Jeans, H.A. Lorentz, Oliver Lodge, Herman Weyl, A.S. Eddington, Norman Campbell, and Harold Jeffreys, plus a few pages of tight bibliography.
Here's the beginning of the Einstein article, courtesy of Nature, with the rest of it available from their website, here. My copy (formerly in the Smithsonian Institution) is too tender to open fully for the scanner, but the cover's masthead is certainly available, and pretty. Abraham Pais notes in his Subtle is the Lord : The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein, that Einstein delayed the publication of the issue somewhat in his attempts to make a complicated issue fit in the space allot (as in the old Mark Twain adage, "If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter"). So, the Einstein:
A Brief Outline of the Development of the Theory of Relativity, by Prof. A. Einstein
[Translated by Dr. Robert W. Lawson]
There is something attractive in presenting the evolution of a sequence of ideas in as brief a form as possible, and yet with a completeness sufficient to preserve throughout the continuity of development. We shall endeavour to do this for the Theory of Relativity, and to show that the whole ascent is composed of small, almost self-evident steps of thought.
The entire development starts off from, and is dominated by, the idea of Faraday and Maxwell, according to which all physical processes involve a continuity of action (as opposed to action at a distance), or, in the language of mathematics, they are expressed by partial differential equations. Maxwell succeeded in doing this for electro-magnetic processes in bodies at rest by means of the conception of the magnetic effect of the vacuum-displacement-current, together with the postulate of the identity of the nature of electro-dynamic fields produced by induction, and the electro-static field.
Perhaps the only bigger five put-together lines than Feynman diagrams may be home plate; otherwise I’m hard pressed to come up with a better thing that can be drawn in this way with this many lines.
The impossibly smart Richard Feynman (1918-1988, Nobel in 1955 for the development of quantum electrodynamics; physics of superfluidity; path integral formulation of QM, etc.) worked on a schematic that would visualize quantum electrodynamical interactions, the scattering calculations in QFT describing interactions between particles The result is known by nearly everyone on earth as Feynman diagrams. (Murray Gell-Mann, another Nobelist and ueber diligent partner and competitor of Feynman’s, and perhaps as influential a physicist (with the Eightfold Way and etc.), refers to the diagrams as (Ernst) Stuckelberg diagrams, named for a once-obscure physicist who, among others, came up with an early schemata closely resembling Feynman diagrams.) They are an elegant and powerful redistribution of complex arrangements that are more easily calculated when visualized.
The images here are the first time the diagrams were published, and are found in the 15 September 1949 issue of the Physical Review after having been introduced in conference and class work (at Cornell int eh 1948/1949 QED course that Feynman taught there). They are among the top-10 prettiest pictures in physics of the 20th century.
Their descriptive power is matched only by their crystalline simplicity—few diagrams have ever been constructed with a greater claim.
The American Journal of Physics, published for the American Association of Physics Teachers by the American Institute of Physics (how many times did I use the word "physics"?) is a superb periodical, and for most of the time that I have been familiar with the journal it has published a very wide variety of physicsiana, including the history of physics, and (perhaps with the highest walk-by entertainment value) practical/applicable physics. I am working on a considerable stack of them right now, and the first one pulled at random began with an article by Leon Lederman on the history of the neutrino--this is an 8-page I-was-there deep-overview with 103 bibliographic references, and looks very useful. (There's much else of interest: Eastwood "Robert Grosseteste on Refraction Phenomena", Bess' "Supplementary Note on Brownian Motion", and 20 others. Really fantastic. (This would be in volume 38/2, February 1970--but it lives behind a paywall...)
The Lederman of course is serious stuff, but in the very next issue that I held in my hand was one of those in-my-mind-famous entries on applied physics, and serious, and fun: Elmer Offenbacher's Physics and the Vertical Jump" (July 1970). Offenbacher relates a famous photo of Robert Oppenheimer jumping for Philippe Halsman's Jump Book (1952) which was a book by the great photographer of images of people jumping. And jump Oppenheimer did--one of the best jumps in the book, a jump reaching for something with an outstretched finger, coat open and flying, a big effort, jumping for something. (Much different from the stunted and under-control "jump" by Richard Nixon, who tried to deceptive-jump without jumping and failed, unlike Tallulah Bankhead, who "jumped" without jumping and succeeded.) Anyway, the notion of jumping and relating it to physics with a picture of Oppie got students to think about the kinematics and dynamics of one-dimensional motion. Offenbacher also opened the article with a story of the celebration of the New York Mets winning their "impossible" World Series in 1969, referring to the jubilant players leaping into each other's arms. (The author doesn't mention names but he must have been referring to two Jerrys--Jerry Koosman,m the winning pitcher, and Jerry Grote, the catcher, along with Ed Charles who was on the mound but not leaping, yet.)
This approach was perhaps a little more shiney and interesting than Galileo's brass balls--the Oppenheimer pic certainly captured my attention. In any event, this was a brilliant idea, and a wonderful way of approach the mechnaics of different sorts of jumping.
Earlier in this blog I posted a great graph on the publications on relativity from 1896 to 1924 as published in Maurice Lecat's Bibliographie de la Relativité, suivie d'un appendice sur les déterminants à deux dimensions, le calcul des variations, les séries trigonométriques, et l'azéotropisme (published in Bruxelles by Lamertin in 1924). Preceding that graph are a few tables of interesting bits on the history of relativity. though I can say that there aren't too many surprises--the information is still very interesting. The Physical Review does not make the top-14 list (in the middle table). [Also see here for a good summation of a 1921 bibliography of relativity.]
The second set of tables shows the distribution by nationality of the contributor--it is interesting to note that the Americans made up 11% of the authors while the Physical Review came nowhere close to that percentage, meaning that the PR hadn't yet come to its place of high regard as a premium publishing vehicle, though that would come soon enough, particularly by the early 1930's.
The founders of the Physikalische Gesellschaft zu Berlin (1845, “Physical Society at Berlin”, which would become the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (“German Physical Society”) in a lovely and very uncommon perspective, taken ca. mid-1850's. These founding membership pictured above included some first-class heavyweights in their fields:
Top row: Gustav Karsten, Wilelm Heintz, Carl Hermann Knoblauch.
Bottom row: Ernst Brücke, Emil du Bois-Reymond, Wilhelm von Beetz.
[Source: a very interesting paper by Fritz Scholz, "From the Leiden jar to the discovery of the glass electrode by Max Cremer" published in the Journal of Solid State Electrochemistry (Springer-Verlag, October 29, 2009, online). Apologies for not being able to link to this article behind the paywall.]
I wanted to reproduce Wolfgang Pauli's letter of 4 December 1930--in it he thinks very widely of missing stuff, of some of the basic bits of the universe, in a rather open and guarded way, about the ghost of the neutron. He didn't feel very comfortable with his ideas yet, at least for professional consumption--that would have to wait another three years when it was discussed at the 7th Solvay Conference (1933) and another three when it first came into print (1936). The name "neutron" would also be changed to the familiar "neutrino" ("little one") by Enrico Fermi in 1933 to differentiate it from the much larger nuclear particle discovered the year earlier by James Chadwick--Chadwick's paper was published in Nature, which would reject Fermi's paper in 1934 as too radical a leap.
[Source: Exhibition of the ETH-Bibliothek to the occasion of the 100th birthday ofWolfgang Pauli http://www.library.ethz.ch/exhibit/pauli/neutrino_e.html]
1932 in my book turns out to be one of the most collectively epochal years in the history of science. Certainly others stand out for individual achievements, like 1905 (Einstein’s four papers over two volume of the Annalen), 1687 (Principia), but there are other yeas with fabulous achievements by numerous people.
1543 is one.That year witnessed the published of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus and Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica, two giant achievements for the outer and inner worlds, one challenging the structure of the universe and the other the Galenic tradition of physiology and anatomy. (To a lesser extent is Peter Ramus’ Animadversions on Aristotle which was a very sustained and elegant attack on the ancient-precept Aristotle an physics.)
1859 saw the publication of On the Origin of Species…JC Maxwell’s work on the kinetic theory of gases, Riemann’s hypothesis, and the spectacular invention of the spectroscope of Kirchhoff and Bunsen (that turned much of the invisible universe visible).
1939 (nuclear fission, chain reaction, neutron stars, magnetic moments, penicillin (advancement), Vitamin K, FM) and 1948 (nuclear structure, QED, transistor, Big Bang) also come quickly to mind.
1932, though is really quite something, seeing a sweeping array of discoveries in the large and small. Carl Anderson identified the positron while James Chadwick discovered the neutron; also, the Joliot-Curies’ made their monumental discoveries in radiation.1Iwanenko described the neutron as a constituent f the nucleus, while Heisenberg described the nucleus as composed of protons and neutrons. Knoll and Ruska built the electron microscope, allowing a vision of the interior parts of the interiors of the smallest things, offering images almost as spectacularly new as Hooke’s two centuries earlier. Looking up and out, in the same year, Lev Landau postulated the existence of neutron stars while Karl Jansky invented radio astronomy. There was also the perfection of the “Polaroid” process by Ed Land, and the isolation of ascorbic acid (Vit C, byCharles Glen King, and the beginning of a long war between him and Szent-Gyorgyi on priority of discovery). (In the non-sciences, there was the addition of Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler to their national agendas. It was also a banner year for literature: Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway; Light in August, William Faulkner; 1919, John Dos Passos; The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett; Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell; Young Lonigan, James Farrell; Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder; and Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley…)
The thread of thinking about all of this came to mind looking at this image of a bombing instruction room for aviation in England in 1932. The image is also a great one; the aviator at far left looks like a marionette; the three men above responding to his piloting maneuvers as he concentrates on the endless panoramas of landforms that advances before him on a horizontal diorama. It is a fabulous analog flight simulator constructed at a time of great change in aviation
1932 is also the year of the publication of Carl W. Spohr’s classic future-vision/speculative fiction apocalyptic-atom bomb end-of-the-world two-parter (so many hyphens!) that appeared in Wonder Stories.2 The story begins with a relatively simple series of catastrophic bombings that lead to a sort of détente, a kind of mutually assured destruction, which is then upset when the combatants discover and construct the atomic bomb.MAD breaks down, and the ensuing massive exchanges result in adevastated world.Pretty prescient stuff, all-in-all, even so far as the policy goes—especially so when you wrap this sci-fi story around the elements of 1932—Chadwick, Anderson, Joliot-Curie—that made all of this stuff possible just 13 years later.
1 The Joliot-Curie discovery was called “one of the most important discoveries of the century... the consequences of the discovery of artificial radioactivity are immense" from Segrè, From X-rays to Quarks, 198-199).
2.Part one appeared in the March issue, which also carried stories like"Red April, 1965" by Frank K. Kelly; "The Eternal World" by Clark Ashton Smith; "Waves of Compulsion" by Raymond Gallun; "Mutiny on Mercury" by Clifford D. Simak; "The Time Stream" by John Taine (Eric Temple Bell), and others.Pretty good bumper crop of sci-fi writers in itself.
Not only is this a very early article approaching the subject of space-time, appearing in Nature in 1885 (volume 31, issue 804, page 481), but it is also the most probable source for H.G. Wells' earliest inspirational source for thinking that would result in such classics as The Time Machine. (See here for an earlier post in this blog for a review of Well's book in Nature.) I bumped into it recently on a graze through the endlessly interesting early-ish volumes of this great journal.
And there were certainly many who came before Wells on the subject of the fourth dimension (though not many on the subject of time as the fourth dimension): R.C. Archibald wrote on d'Alembert's (1754) use of time as a fourth dimension (in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society for May 1914); Cayley's "Analytical Geometry of n-Dimensions (Cambridge Mathematical Journal, 1843); Grassmann's Die Lineale aus Dehnungslehre (1844); Riemann's 1854 effort on curved space (translated in 1873 for Nature by W. Kingdom Clifford); Beltrami's introduction of the pseudosphere in 1868; J.J. Sylvester (again in Nature for 30 December 1869); Hermann von Helmholtz and his curvature for three-dimensional spaces, and others. Also, according to Linda Dalrymple Henderson in her The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, 1983) in Appendix B there were only a few other efforts before this Nature article. (Some of these include Halsted, "The New Ideas about Space", in Popular Science Monthly, July 1877; Hinton's "What is the Fourth Dimension?", Dublin University Magazine, 1880; Lane "Transcendental Geometry" Popular Science Monthly, August 1882; and Fullerton, "On Space of Four Dimensions" the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, April 1894.)
Of the many portraits painted of Isaac Newton, the vast majority of them came after his death--some were fanciful, some were based on recollection, and others were based on the few examples that have survived painted of him in life. This happened quite a bit--even someone as esteemed as his semi-counter-rival, the great Robert Hooke, received no attention at all from portraitists during his lifetime.
I found this lovely portrait of Newton--a miniature, nearly--an engraving by Laderer after the 1726 painting by John Vanderbank, made just a year before his death, and almost 40 years after he ascent to great fame.
It is an image I don't see very often.
The original is about 1.5x1 inch on a 10x7 inch sheet, and printed in ca. 1820-30. I'm unsure of the engraving's origin. The full version is below.
THere's also this engraving, made of the same painting, and executed in the 1830's, that shows Newton in a little less flattering light--at least here he looks as though he has some decent age on him.
The Future of Nuclear Science, Princeton University Bicentennial Series, Series I Conference I (1946), with a forward by the director of the conference, E.P Wigner, is mostly just a short (36-page) introduction to the conference, though it does contain a very nice and not commonly seen photograph of the conference's participants. Of particular interest is the accompanying ghost/outline guide to identifying the group, which seems to take on its own life when viewed out-of-context.
It is a considerably heavyweight group of physicists--among them are Hofstadter, S.K. Alison, Kistiakowsky, Ladenburg, W.J. Eckert, L.A. Turner, R.H. Dicke, E. Amaldi, Urey, Conant, Tolman, Pais, Turkevich, Condon, Wheeler, Smyth, Chandrasekhar, Weisskopf, Seaborg, Wilson, Morrison, Veblen, Bargmann, Feynman, Van Vleck, Rabi, Eisenhart, Compton, Kramers, Dirac, DuBridge, Bridgman, Fermi, Blackett, and others. It is a wonderful photograph:
Here's a relatively-random detail featuring (bottom left -to-right) Compton, Kramers, Dirac, Bohr, plus (middle left-to-right) Margenau, Bargmann, Feynman, Harnwell, Tate, and (third row) Wheeler, Smyth, and Chandrasekhar. This was an extraordinary group.
Around 1870 James Clerk Maxwell--one of the great minds in the history of modern physics--responded to a request by Francis Galton to fill out a questionnaire for Galton's work on the characteristics of people-of-genius, and published as English Men of Science, their Nature and Nurture(1874).
This is a set of Maxwell's responses about himself, as well as his mother and father: