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A detailed and thoroughly researched study of Bethe's development as a scientist and as a human being...Schweber has trawled [Bethe's] correspondence [with Rudolf Peierls], together with Bethe's voluminous archive, with the finest of gauzes, and the result is a richly detailed picture of his life. Schweber tells it with compassion and admiration, although Nuclear Forces is no hagiography…This is a deeply rewarding book…[It's] an insightful account of how Hans Bethe became, in the constellation of 20th-century physicists, one of its most luminous stars.
— Graham Farmelo
Nuclear Forces is a highly readable account of a remarkable period in physics, tracing the future Nobel laureate through his formative years and up to the eve of World War II.
— Manjit Kumar
Nuclear Forces, by the distinguished physicist Silvan Schweber, tells the story of the first three decades of Bethe's life and career, up to the time of his Nobel Prize–winning work on nuclear reactions in stars. But the book offers much more besides, with a history of the development of physics—atomic, solid-state and nuclear—in the first third of the twentieth century, and of the institutions in which Bethe worked. Schweber's analysis of the physics is the book's great strength.
— Frank Cose
From Chapter Seven: Cornell University
By the early 1930s it had become clear that the principal areas of research within the department—atomic and molecular spectroscopy, electron and ion physics—no longer were frontier fields. Intense discussions were held to decide which new fields of research ought to be supported. Merritt, went to Leyden in 1931 to visit the low temperature laboratory there, and to Göttingen to acquaint himself with work carried on in Franck's laboratory. He also went to Berlin to confer with von Laue and others and to Rome to the first international conference on nuclear physics, and actually met Bethe at that time when he visited Fermi’s Institute. In 1933, Merritt recommended to the Cornell administration that the department expand its activities and go into nuclear physics thus setting it on its modern course. Not everyone supported Merritt's recommendation. In particular, Richtmyer, the most successful and best known of the experimental physicists at Cornell and the Dean of its Graduate School, fearing that nuclear physics would take away support from his X ray laboratory, opposed the move. Nonetheless, the department went ahead and asked M. Stanley Livingston and Bethe to join it. In retrospect, this was undoubtedly the most important decision taken by the department. Livingston, who had helped Lawrence build his cyclotron at Berkeley and "is generally credited with having made it actually run after Lawrence had the idea for it" came in the fall of 1934, and immediately began building Cornell's first accelerator, the first to be built outside of Berkeley. In early February 1935 Bethe arrived, and the following year Robert Bacher joined the department. Gibbs, who had become head of the department in 1934, explained to Bethe when he arrived that the department "was changing from one in which research was done to provide thesis topics for graduate students to one in which graduate students could participate in ongoing research." Gibbs added that "Not everyone agreed with this new emphasis on research, and there was some disagreement on which fields to expand into. It was the progressives versus the conservatives. The progressives had won the fight and now had the backing of the administration." The appointment of Bethe— a "theoretical nuclear man, and a foreigner to boot" —was one of the signs of change.
Bethe arrived in the United States at a time when the American physics community was undergoing enormous growth. The production of physics Ph.Ds was expanding from an annual rate of around 90 in 1930 to over 170 by 1940, with almost all the Ph.D's earned during the decade being awarded by 15 universities. Whereas in the early thirties Heisenberg, Pauli and Ehrenfest had four or five students at most working for a university degree at any one time, Harvard, Illinois, Berkeley, Princeton, Wisconsin were annually accepting that number of graduate students interested in theory. When the refugees from Nazi Germany began to arrive in the United States they strengthened measurably the theoretical activities at some of the less well developed centers — Bethe at Cornell, Bloch at Stanford, Teller and Gamov at George Washington University, Nordheim at Purdue, London at Duke, and later in the decade Weisskopf at Rochester — and greatly enriched physics activities in the United States. But conversely, the American setting likewise enriched these “illustrious immigrants" intellectually by virtue of their closeness to experimental activities and results. Their style altered to suit their new environment, particularly so where research in nuclear physics was being actively pursued. In 1937 Lawrence's 37 inch cyclotron was the largest cyclotron operating in the U.S. and similar machines were under construction at Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Purdue and Rochester. A little later, cyclotrons were being built at Harvard, Indiana and Washington University. At all these places experimentalists depended on theorists to help them interpret their data and to explain the theory that had been advanced to account for the observed phenomena.
1 Growing Up 24
2 Maturing 70
3 Becoming Bethe 94
4 Beyond the Doctorate: 1928-1933 154
5 England, 1933-1935 237
6 Hilde Levi 266
7 Cornell University 283
8 The Happy Thirties 315
9 Rose Ewald Bethe 361
Conclusion: Past and Future 386
A The Bethe Family Genealogy 400
B Courses Taken at Frankfurt University 402
C A Brief History of the Genesis of Quantum Mechanics 404
D Courses Taken at Munich University 419
E Bethe's Doctoral Thesis 421
F The Habilitationsschrift Defense 428
Posted January 30, 2013