Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe [NOOK Book]

Overview

What drove Nobel-winning physicist Hans Bethe, head of Theoretical Physics at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, to later renounce the weaponry he had worked so tirelessly to create? That is one of the questions answered by Nuclear Forces, a riveting biography of Bethe’s early life and development as both a scientist and a man of principle.
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Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe

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Overview

What drove Nobel-winning physicist Hans Bethe, head of Theoretical Physics at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, to later renounce the weaponry he had worked so tirelessly to create? That is one of the questions answered by Nuclear Forces, a riveting biography of Bethe’s early life and development as both a scientist and a man of principle.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Schweber’s account of Hans Bethe’s life through his Nobel Prize–winning 1938 work on energy generation in stars reveals the origins of a charismatic scientist, grounded in the importance of his parents and his Jewish roots. Born in 1906, Bethe was fascinated by math and, mentored by his neurophysiologist father, he grew up exploring and understanding the world through rational, scientific models. At Frankfurt University he initially chose a chemistry major, but after a mishap with sulfuric acid he found a home in theoretical physics and quantum mechanics. Returning to Germany after completing a post-doc at Cambridge, Bethe, whose mother was Jewish, found the 1933 Civil Service Law forbade “non-Aryans” from government jobs, so he joined his Jewish associates in moving abroad. Accepting a post at Cornell University, Bethe enjoyed the “teamwork” between theorists and experimentalists. Schweber focuses on his Nobel-winning work during this early period as his career was just getting started. A final chapter looks at his wife’s influence on him. Despite side trips into college-level math and physics, Schweber, who has taught the history of ideas and of science at Harvard and Brandeis, recreates the social world that shaped the character of the last of the memorable young scientists who established the field of quantum mechanics. (June)
Freeman Dyson
[Bethe was] the supreme problem solver of the twentieth century.
David C. Cassidy
Nuclear Forces is a carefully researched, historically and biographically insightful account of the development of a profession and of one of its leading representatives during a century in which physics and physicists played key roles in scientific, cultural, political, and military developments.
Times Higher Education - Graham Farmelo
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.
Wall Street Journal - Manjit Kumar
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.
Nature - Frank Cose
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.
Choice - M. Dickinson
Schweber, a physicist and historian of physics, provides an engaging account of the life of Hans Bethe...The book essentially ends just before the beginning of WW II. It gives the intellectual, cultural, and scientific background needed to understand Bethe's scientific work and his advocacy for control of nuclear weapons after the war.
Scientific American blog - Ashutosh Jogalekar
Through many interviews and a friendship going back fifty years, Schweber gives us a rare glimpse into the personal and professional life of this great man. The biography achieves the rare goal of being both scholarly and engaging.
Times Higher Education

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

Wall Street Journal

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

Nature

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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674070127
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/13/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 8 MB

Meet the Author

Silvan S. Schweber is Associate, Department of the History of Science at Harvard University and Professor of Physics and Richard Koret Professor in the History of Ideas, Emeritus, at Brandeis University.
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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

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

Appendixes

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

Notes 431

References 513

Acknowledgments 551

Index 555

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