Possibly the second greatest physicist of the 20th century you’ve likely never heard of

Albert Einstein is rightly acknowledged as the 20th century’s greatest scientist. It’s more difficult to suggest who’s in the group of theoretical physicists sitting just below Einstein in terms of greatness.

That list would reasonably include Niels Bohr, Madame Curie, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi, and Paul Dirac. You probably should have heard of Bohr, Curie, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Fermi, but of Paul Dirac I imagine you might not have recognised the name. [Click on image to expand].

Paul Dirac [1902-1984] was an English theoretical physicist, who, among his contributions to quantum mechanics, proved the existence of anti-matter based purely on mathematical calculation. Tim Radford writes in his Guardian article about Graham Farmelo’s biography of Dirac in, Paul Dirac: The man who conjured laws of nature from pure thought.

Dirac was among the world’s leading physicists at the October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons, where the world’s most notable physicists met to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory. See photo and the names of the delegates below.

Even physicists find quantum mechanics difficult to understand

When writing about quantum mechanics some while ago HERE, and HERE, I said,

… on my bedside table, in addition to a dictionary and my current reading, is Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by physicist Richard Feynman. Here’s a description of the book, which includes a chapter on quantum mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle:

It contains the six easiest chapters from Richard P. Feynman’s landmark work, Lectures on Physics—specifically designed for the general, non-scientist reader. Feynman gave these lectures just once, to a group of university undergraduates in 1961 and 1962.

The part of the book I never got past was on quantum mechanics – the science of the very small. The chapter discussed Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, that’s where I stopped understanding. My lesson learned was I’m short of brain power.

quantum-mechanicsSo, how wonderful to read a review in the New York Review of Books about The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics by Steven Weinberg in which he writes – as a physicist – that he and others like him find quantum mechanics difficult to comprehend.

I’m not trying to be erudite here, just want to point out even in the world of scientists, there’s a brain power hierarchy. The Newton’s, Einstein’s and Feynman’s sit at the top of that hierarchy. Note: Image not related to the article by Steven Weinberg.

Fun exploring the map of world time zones

In a City Metric article on Where does Santa start his rounds? they show this map from Wikipedia. Click on the map to expand.

I suggest looking at the islands in the Pacific. It’s a surprise to see how many are French. Islands that were once British such as Fiji, Kiribati, and Tuvalu are now independent. Oh, and the same goes for islands in the West Indies. Just a thought.


Hattip: Wikipedia on Time Zones

Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft acquired by the Science Museum

The Science Museum announced yesterday the acquisition of the Soyuz spacecraft used to deliver and return British astronaut Tim Peake to the International Space Station.

Tim Peake’s Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft joins the Science Museum’s world-class collection of space equipment, which includes the Apollo 10 Command Module, the only such Apollo spacecraft outside of the USA.

I’m looking forward to a return visit to the Science Museum, in 2017, to see this new addition to their space collection. Here’s are photo’s of the Apollo 10 [on left], and the Soyuz TMA-19M [on right].

Apollo 10 Command Module soyuz-tma-19m

Maybe the UK will be the ones to develop applications for Graphene

Graphene – a thin layer of pure carbon is the world’s thinnest material – discovered by two researchers at the University of Manchester, wining them a Nobel prize for Physics for their work.

uclanIt’s discovery created huge world-wide interest in potential applications. Maybe the UK will be the ones to harness the the research into useful applications, rather than, as has been the all to often case, other countries. That we have a newly created National Graphene Institute, based at the Univ of Manchester, is exactly the correct approach – investment in fundamental and application research.

The American Scientist magazine in an article, Graphene Takes Flight, report on how a University of Central Lancaster team created “A small, remote-controlled airplane with the world’s first graphene-coated wings demonstrated promising improved flight performance, intriguing the aerospace industry.”

The story of Harry Brearley, the father of stainless steel

The American science magazine Nautilus has the simply fascinating story about Englishman Harry Brearley in their article The Father of Modern Metal.

Author Jonathan Waldman delves into the life of Harry Brearley, and how ‘The creation of stainless steel took equal parts metallurgy and perseverance’.


Do read Jonathan’s article, in which he writes, “Steel was Harry’s true love. It would lead, eventually, to the discovery of stainless steel”.

While The British Stainless Steel Association discusses why it’s not that clear cut that Harry Brealey was the inventor of stainless steel, it does conclude that yes, it was Harry Brearley.

I’ve found a personal story about Harry Bayley by W A D Glossop whose Aunt Winifred was Harry Brearley’s secretary for many years, which provides more detail about the man and his family.

The story of Harry Brearley is of the many twists and turns in his life. The overpowering impression about Harry Brearley, just as Jonathan Waldman writes, is of perseverance.

Hattip: Photo by David Morris

Rising to the occasion with typically British humour

You might have smiled, as I did, when the leading suggested name for a £200million Antarctic research vessel is ‘Boaty McBoatyface’.

Congratulations due to James Hand for the amusing suggestion, and more importantly to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) who allowed the name through to the list of suggested names.

James says he now has regrets about submitting the name. Silly, yes. But also typically irreverent British humour. [Click on images to expand].