Monday, October 19, 2009

P.A.M. Dirac: Some Strangeness in the Proportion

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jeremy Bernstein's article in AJP this month[1]. The article discusses Dirac's life and is motivated by the recent biography of Dirac by Graham Farmelo, which I've mentioned on here.

As with many prominent figures in physics, Dirac had his own eccentricities, many of which are listed in this article. For those who have not read Farmelo's biography, this is the next best "Cliff Notes" version.

I see a movie being made of the book, probably directed by the Cohen brothers! :)


[1] J. Bernstein, Am. J. Phys. v.77, p.979 (2009).


Anonymous said...

I used to be pen-pal with a lady who did experimental nuclear physics at Harwell starting in the 1950s. In her autobiography she told of seeing Dirac at a Cavendish lecture. One from the audience asked, "Professor Dirac, I do not understand your fourth equation down on the left-hand side of the blackboard."

Dirac said nothing, but just stared placidly into space. The lecture Chairman asked, "Professor Dirac, are you prepared to answer that question?" Dirac's response was "Oh. Was that a question? I thought it was just a statement of fact."

ZapperZ said...

You might find this amusing, but an almost identical anecdote to that is described in Bernstein's article.


Anonymous said...

I seem to recall reading that episode elsewhere, but quite some time back and I don't remember where. I'm guessing that the lecture in question was somewhat of a big deal at the time, and that a number of people witnessed it and have retold it in their own words.