Sunday, August 13, 2006

The only Way to do Physics

The Aug. 2006 issue of Physics Today has a feature article Stories from the early days of quantum mechanics, a transcribed colloquium given by Isidor Isaac Rabi in 1979. To remind you, Rabi was the guy who said Who ordered that? upon the discovery of the muon.

In the discussion, he was asked to elaborate further on the circumstances of his work in Hamburg:

Rabi: "We showed the Germans something that we called the Amerikanische Arbeitsmethode, the American way of working. Usually the laboratory was opened strictly at 7am and then closed at 7pm -- it was all so very un-American. We would come at 10am, and then, around 11 o'clock, the wives would come and make toast, crumpets, and so on while we went on doing our physics experiments. And we finished in very good time. It really worked. Also we were very happy while doing it. We'd have requests from the top floor of the building, Would you please sing more quietly? So it wasn't a time when you gritted your teeth and did an experiment. It was a joy all the time. That's the only way to do physics, I think."

Hey, those were the days!

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  1. Whats that supposed to mean? The only way to do physics is American?

    - Su

  2. Eeh, well, I think it is supposed to mean that the bureaucratic method, with office hours from 7am to 7 pm or whatever, may not be the best way to do creative work in physics ;-)

    BTW, Bee, where in Germany was Rabi at that time? With Otto Stern in Hamburg? Is that mentioned in the article? Anyway, thank you very much for mentioning this article - it sounds very interesting!

    Best, stefan

  3. I'll go along with the Rabi on: "the only way to do physics"
    Unfortunately the overheads are a little bit higher now days. lol!

    But yeah, if he wants to give me and my future jewess wife a job eating crumpets with jam.
    I'm up for it
    I'll see if I can't come up with something to add to the nuons & baggles.

  4. Those were the days indeed, Bee
    No rush and no deadlines and no Lubos the Motl or Woit the hoit blowing endless volatile hot air at each other ...

    I think the amount of hot air is inversely proportional to any progress made. The less progress the more volatile the hot air gets

  5. Quoting James York at a British Gravity Meeting, on doing physics in the good old days vs. nowadays: "Hey, this is supposed to be fun!".

    (Btw, that was a hell of a talk! ;-) )

  6. They had the magnetic moment of the electron and the electron-proton mass ratio. Stern wasted time, labor, and money measuring the magnetic moment of the proton, for theory could calculate it. Theory was proven wrong by observation.

    GR denies exchange of spin and orbital angular momenta. Is lunar laser ranging silly plus expensive? Lunar orbital recession is 3.84±0.07 cm/year. Earth's spin slows as the moon's orbit gets torqued. Metric gravitation is insufficient absent an affine connection.

    Do (metaphoric) left and right shoes vacuum free fall identically? Quantitative geometric parity divergence is intimately snuggled with moments of inertia. Affine and teleparallel gravitation allow a chiral pseudoscalar vacuum background. Somebody should look.

  7. I wonder what they were singing back then.

  8. Dear Stefan, yes yes, the article said a lot about when Rabi was where and did what with whom, all of which I immediately forgot. Too much singing lately ;-) Best, B.

  9. Bee, you gotta have some singing, some chanting and some hummm -ing.

    Wavelengths, oscillations, vibrations, reverb verations ...

    Thanks for that link to web of bubbles, is that a designed model for neural pathways and geometry in nature, or just coincidental art(work). Mind you a even spring mattresses are not coincidental but deliberate design according to the springiness (memory) of the metal wire being used.

  10. PS - here's another one on bubbles

    Woman in a bubble

  11. Bee, thanks for sharing this story. Strangely enough, this story reminds me of a black and white picture of a lady delivering a cup of tea to Einstein while he is performing calculations upon the chalkboard. Doubtlessly, that image reflects the good ol' days from a man's perspective. On the flipside, I'm not convinced that these were equally the good ol' days for a woman. But to be prefectly candid, however, I wouldn't object to being Einstein's handmaiden as long as he granted me the opportunity to jump into the chalkboard from time to time.;) Best wishes, Cynthia

  12. Dear Cynthia,

    strangely enough :-) your story reminds me of another story: When I had my first appointment with the Prof. who would later become my advisor, I was offered a cup of tea. He then called in his secretary only to have her blow out the tea light. Seriously! Best,



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