Professor Paul A. M. Dirac

Paul Dirac was one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century, as well as one of the most notable professors to teach at Florida State University. Dirac, who was of Swiss descent, was born, raised, and educated in Bristol, England. After completing a degree in engineering at the University of Bristol Dirac went on to study physics at St. John’s College at Cambridge. He completed a Ph.D. in 1926 and then he served on the faculty of St. John’s College for several years. It was during this time that he formulated the famous “Dirac Equation” and wrote The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, a seminal work in the field. During the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s Dirac continued his research and traveled widely, spending time at the Institute for Advanced Research at Princeton where he met his future wife Margit Wigner, the sister of fellow physicist Eugene Wigner. Over the course of his career Dirac collaborated and had personal relationships with other influential physicists such as Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Robert Oppenheimer, and Albert Einstein.

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After a brief time at the University of Miami, Dirac accepted a position at FSU in 1972, and he remained here until his death in 1984. He taught classes and continued to work on his research during his time at FSU and he was one of the first Nobel Prize Winners to accept a faculty position at Florida State*. Dirac’s legacy on campus and in the Tallahassee community includes the Dirac Science Library, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory located on Paul Dirac Drive in FSU’s Innovation Park.  In addition, FSU Special Collections and Archives house Dirac’s personal papers. This vast collection includes materials about Dirac’s personal and professional life, including paper and lectures given by him, as well as his correspondence with other well-known physicists. Of special interest are Dirac’s handwritten notes and notebooks.

For more information on Paul Dirac, see the Paul A. M. Dirac Papers finding aid.

*This blog post previously stated Dirac was the only Nobel prize winner on FSU’s faculty. This information was incorrect and the error was corrected on July 31, 2013.

One thought on “Professor Paul A. M. Dirac

  1. Nice post. There have been a couple of recent books featuring Dirac, particularly “The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom” by Graham Farmelo ( 2011) and “Faust in Copenhagen” by Gino Segrè (2007).

    You state that Dirac was the only Nobel Prize laureate on the FSU faculty. Since then, there have been 5 more. I don’t know if it is a better for a univeristy to have a laureate on the faculty before they win or after they win the prize…

    Paul A.M. Dirac (Physics, 1933) FSU Department of Physics (Professor Emeritus) from 1971 (d. 1984).
    Robert S. Mulliken (Chemistry, 1966) FSU Distinguished Research Professor of Chemical Physics from 1964 to 1971.
    Konrad E. Bloch (Medicine, 1964) Eminent Scholar in the Department of Human Sciences in 1988.
    James Buchanan (Economics, 1986) FSU Department of Economics from 1951 to 1956 (chair 1954-1956).
    J. Robert Schrieffer (Physics 1972) National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at FSU from 1991 (retired 2006).
    Harold Kroto (Chemistry 1996) FSU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from 2004 to present.

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