Sep

21

As my wife is now studying, of all things, nuclear physics, I am currently reading "The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the International Race to Split the Atom" by Brian Cathcart .

The physical sciences have always been dear to my heart and so I am having fun helping her with her homework. {What is the deBroglie wavelength of a baseball thrown at 30 meters/second (about 67 and a half miles/hour)? Can such wave characteristics be detected? What is the deBroglie wavelength of a proton traveling at one tenth of the speed of light?}

I took particular joy in the authors description of George Gamow, a brilliant theorist who is known for explaining alpha decay via a theory of quantum mechanical tunneling, which is one of the strangest aspects of quantum mechanics and the one that I find most interesting (along with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle).

To quote Cathcart: "Meanwhile Gamow was establishing himself as the court jester of the institute, always staging practical jokes, writing poems and songs and organizing parties where people played parlour games - a favorite involved everyone lying on their backs and passing balloons around with their feet. He was the soul of the party and people loved his talk all the more because of the breathtaking liberties he took with language. Although he spoke neither German nor English nor Danish with any accuracy [Ed.: he was Russian] he did not hesitate to hold forth in all of them and the letters he wrote in this period bear witness to the anarchy of his vocabulary and syntax."

"Anarchy of his vocabulary" indeed! My wife is excited about and interested in the material and I am happy to see her unexpected diversion in this direction (she is a Librarian by trade). For those interested, the course she is taking is here, and if you page down to the "Lecture Links" and then click any one of the dates and then scroll through the material in the window on the left you can get an idea of what she is up against. We have our studying cut out for us.


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