Paul Dirac: Early Adulthood and the Start of a Scientific Career


Paul Dirac formal portrait, wearing academic cap and gown. (original image)

Paul Dirac’s record was almost flawless as an undergraduate. In three years, Dirac nearly managed to be at the top of his class in all subjects, the only flaw being a single Strength of Materials course where he ranked second. After receiving his engineering degree at the young age of nineteen, Dirac went on to Cambridge where he pursued a degree in mathematics.

While Dirac was studying and moving forward in his academics, his older brother Felix had settled in Birmingham working in a machine-testing factory. Charles Dirac had supported Paul in his education, going so far as to give him the money necessary to be sure of solvency in Cambridge. However, Charles Dirac had refused Felix his desire to study medicine as he wished. Felix earned little money as a factory worker and was unhappy with how his life was turning out.


Bristol. Florence Dirac at the grave of son Felix. (original image)

In early January of 1925, Felix left his job, stopped writing to his parents and sister, and began living from his savings. A few months later, in March, Paul Dirac received a letter at Cambridge from his aunt Nell. Felix had committed suicide. Dirac’s feelings about this occurrence are unknown, however, after returning home to his family for a short time, it appears that Dirac went back to work as usual.

It is speculated that the plummet of Dirac’s productivity in the following months was due to grief. Dirac’s focus was also making a shift during these years of study as he was transitioning from working on solvable problems to looking for new, fundamental research problems. In October of 1925, Dirac entered his last year of postgraduate studies. During this year was when Dirac first set out the mathematical basis of quantum theory parallel to the classical theory. Dirac came up with a theory which sought to describe the behavior of all quantum particles in all circumstances throughout all of time.

Only a month later, Dirac had finished writing his paper titled, “Fundamental Equations of Quantum Mechanics”. On December 1st, the same day a historical non-aggression pact between France, Germany, and Belgium called the Treaty of Locarno was signed, Dirac’s paper was published by the Royal Society. This marked the start of when Dirac became recognized in the scientific community. Though part of his results had already been discovered by German physicist and mathematician Max Born, Dirac had become a part of a collection of mathematicians and scientists which sought to crystallize quantum mechanics into a complete theory. A year later, in June of 1926, Dirac would pursue a Ph.D. where he would become the first to write a thesis on matters of quantum mechanics.   

Sources:

Farmelo, Graham, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius, Faber and Faber 2009.

Exploring the Alicia Korenman Graphic Novels Collection (1983-2007)

Will Eisner Week kicked off on March 1st, so it’s a great time to remind library users of the rich graphic novel and comics resources available in Special Collections & Archives. If you’re wondering who Will Eisner is and why he gets his own week, you can check out SCA Manuscript Archivist Rory Grennan’s brief and informative essay on Eisner’s contribution to comic books here. Florida State University boasts multiple collections with emphases on comic books and graphic novels, including the Robert M. Ervin Jr. Collection[ and the Alicia Korenman Graphic Novels Collection.

Cover art from
Tripodologia Felina, no. 1, 1992 in the Alicia Korenman Graphic Novels Collection

            The Alicia Korenman Graphic Novels Collection is a diverse collection of media, including comic books and strips, graphic novels, zines, books, as well as DVDs and VHS tapes. As detailed in the collection’s finding aid, Korenman’s interest in how women were portrayed by the comic book industry began in the 1990s. She discovered that alternative and small press comic book publishers tendered stories based on everyday experiences and emotions, as well as the female experience.

            The contents of the collection run the gamut from classic Archie comics from the 1990s to Japanese manga, including a manga adaptation of the popular anime Cowboy Bebop, as well as a robust assortment of zines. What’s a zine? A zine, according to the Barnard Zine Library, is “short for fanzine or magazine, […] a DIY subculture self-publication, usually made on paper and reproduced with a photocopier or a printer.” While several zines are in English, at least two titles are also in Spanish, including Tripodologia Felina, no. 1 (published in 1992 by Producciones Balazo) and Asi Pasan los Dias/Escuadron Rescate (written and published by Matt Madden and Jessica Abel, published in 1998). The self-published and small-scale nature of zines complements Korenman’s interest in more personal stories.

These zines are only the tip of the iceberg and we at Special Collections & Archives encourage students, faculty, and members of the public to check out the collection, and our other resources at any time!

For those interested in Eisner Week activities, there are two events happening in the Bradley Reading Room in Strozier Library from March 1-7:

March 5: Graphic Novel Literacy Panel –  https://www.facebook.com/events/424490508306147/

March 7: A Conversation with Will Eisner- https://www.facebook.com/events/298756474133249/

Post written by Lisa Play.

The Poetical Star

This post is written by Megan Barrett, a long time student employee in the Digital Library Center in Special Collections & Archives. We’ll be sorry to see her graduate this spring but we know she’s off to big things!

I am currently a senior studying Art History, and I’ve had the opportunity to work as a Special Collections & Archives assistant for the past three years. I’ve helped with a number of fascinating projects, with topics ranging from Napoleonic newspapers to environmental studies, and this semester, I got to spend some time with the collection of John MacKay Shaw.

One of the books I worked with for this project was a poetry collection entitled The Poetical Star, published in London in 1843. The collection begins with an epigraph by the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne: “I have here only made a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the thread that binds them.”

The excerpt of the Byron poem as it appears in The Poetical Star [see original item]

As a student interested in Romanticism, one of the poems in the collection that caught my eye was the “Description of a Mad-House” from Lord Byron’s The Lament of Tasso. The poem narrates the time that the Italian poet Torquato Tasso spent in a mental hospital, and it has become the subject of one of my favorite paintings by Eugène Delacroix, Tasso in the Madhouse (1839). The Poetical Star also includes poetry on abstract ideas of love and time, as well as comedic poetry and wordplay.

Tasso in the Madhouse by Eugène Delacroix
Tasso in the Madhouse by Eugène Delacroix [Original Image: WikiData]

The Poetical Star is one of the many poetry books that can be found as an ebook in FSU’s digital library, especially in the John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry collection.

The Early Years of Paul Dirac

Formal portrait of Paul and Felix Dirac as children.

Paul (in child’s gown) and Felix Dirac. (original image)

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac was born August 8, 1902, just a day before the crowning of King Edward the VII. Just as you’d expect, Dirac and his older brother Felix resembled each other greatly in their early years, both quiet and sporting thick black curls. Through letters from Florence Dirac, Paul’s mother, one would find that these two were exceptionally close and loved being with their father.

Graham Farmelo, writer of The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac argues that Paul Dirac most probably didn’t appreciate being brought up in an environment of unusual circumstances where he and his brother were to receive private education from their school teacher father. In a 1980 conversation with Kurt Hofer, a then Florida State University biology professor, Dirac is quoted to have confided that in his early years, he never felt love or affection.

An formal portrait of the Dirac family with Florence on the left and Charles on the right. Infant Betty, Felix, and Paul are situated between them.

Paul Dirac, Charles, Florence, Felix, and Betty in family portrait. (original image)

Throughout his life, most of Dirac’s acquaintances had no idea what his childhood was like. At home, Dirac had no photographs of his father and he kept his father’s papers locked in his desk. In his early thirties, Dirac wrote to a close friend that to defend himself against the hostilities he perceived around him he retreated into his own imagination. Perhaps this is what aided in his superior understanding of scientific inquiry.

Formal portrait of Paul Dirac sitting outside.
Paul Dirac outdoor portrait. (original image)

Around the age of ten, Dirac picked up the hobby of astronomy. Science wasn’t a subject taught at Bishop Road Primary School, however, they did have courses on technical drawing which may have provided Dirac with a foundation in the unique way he interpreted how the universe worked. Years later, the geometrical approaches found in the technical drawing lessons Dirac took in his earliest years would transfer over into the mathematical theories he would pose in relation to theoretical physics and the 20th century understanding of the atom.

Sources:

Farmelo, Graham, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius, Faber and Faber 2009.

An Underwater View

One of the advantages to the location of Florida State University is we’re not so very far from the Gulf of Mexico. FSU first established a research facility, The Oceanographic Institute, on the gulf coast in 1949 on 25 acres on the harbor side of the peninsula that forms Alligator Harbor, about 45 miles south of Tallahassee.

FSU Marine Lab from the water (St George's Sound on the Gulf of Mexico)
FSU Marine Lab from the water (St George’s Sound on the Gulf of Mexico) See Original Image Record

The Oceanographic Institute maintained a substantial research effort throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The research conducted by the faculty and graduate students was intended to be interdisciplinary, balancing fundamental investigations of the productivity of tropical continental-shelf waters in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico with applied research on practical problems of the commercial and sport fisheries and the use of other marine resources. Various other research locations were also used over the years.

In 1966, FSU formed the Department of Oceanography on campus, and the Oceanographic Institute was closed. A new facility was built across the harbor and further to the west on land donated to Florida State University by Ed Ball, President of the St. Joe Paper Company. This facility opened in 1968 and was known as the Edward Ball Marine Laboratory. Today, it is known as the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory. For more information on the history of the Laboratory, visit the Lab’s History webpage.

Marine Lab Boat, Seminole. See Original Image Record

Recently, Heritage & University Archives added a collection of digitized materials about the Coastal and Marine Laboratory to the FSU Digital Library. This collection includes photographs, plans, letters and other documentation collected in operating the Lab since the 1950s. The photographs, in particular, show the growth of the Lab’s operations as well as the experiences of its faculty and students at the Lab and on the water over the years. To explore this new collection, visit the Lab’s collection in the FSU Digital Library.

Moving House! Hours for Special Collections & Archives January 28, 2019

Moving Day at Florida State University, circa 1960s
Moving Day at Florida State University, circa 1960s. (original item here)

We’re very excited that materials from a remote storage facility are being moved to a new home, Strozier Library! This will help us serve materials faster to our patrons. However, for moving day, we need all hands on deck so our Research Center Reading Room in Strozier Library and the Claude Pepper Library will be available by appointment only on Monday, January 28, 2019, to allow our staff to focus on the move. If you need to make an appointment to access our collections on that day, please email lib-specialcollections@fsu.edu or call 850-644-3271.

The Norwood Reading Room, the Special Collections Exhibit Room, and the Heritage Museum will be open as scheduled on January 28. We will resume normal hours in all our locations on Tuesday, January 29, 2019.

Digitizing Leon High School Newspapers

In collaboration with Leon High School, we just finished digitizing the first batch of their newspapers which date from 1920-1956. As with most collaborative efforts, this was a multi-step process involving several parties and today we’re going to briefly discuss the digitization portion of this project. The goal is to have the entire Leon High Newspaper Collection digitized, loaded into DigiNole and made accessible to the community.

The first step in the process was to take a glance at what we were working with and to prep the papers for digitization. The newspapers were picked up from Leon High and delivered to Strozier Library neatly sorted and grouped by decade, with most stored in protective mylar. Considering their age, the papers themselves were in decent condition and they arrived stored in several large archival boxes.

Sorting Leon High Newspapers

Sorting Leon High Newspapers
Sorting through the Leon High Newspapers

The plan was to efficiently digitize these objects using multiple pieces of equipment at once; larger issues would be digitized with our overhead reprographic camera set up while the smaller ones would be scanned on our Epson 11000XL flatbed scanners.

In order to get started, we sorted the newspapers by size and had them distributed to their respective scanning stations. This allowed us to save time by not having to manually refocus and position our overhead IQ180 camera each time a different-sized newspaper was encountered. Leaving the camera in one position allowed for faster capture time and guaranteed each photo would be captured at the specified resolution.

IQ180 Camera Setup
IQ180 camera aiming down at a Leon High Newspaper

When photographing this sort of material, it’s important to reduce as much depth as possible. Peaks and valleys caused by folds or creases in the objects can sometimes cause problems when trying to achieve evenly-sharp focus throughout the frame. Thankfully, most of the newspapers from this first batch laid relatively flat without too many folds or bumps.

We were able to flatten the few troublesome papers by carefully utilizing a set of custom-sized glass plates. By lowering the angles of the lights and by using low-glare glass, we were able to prevent any unwanted reflections from showing up in the final images.

These problems typically don’t occur when using flatbed scanners since closing the lid does a good job of flattening most objects. The scanners also allow for even lighting across the entire object without the risk of unwanted reflections, especially with non-glossy material such as these newspapers.

Epson 11000XL
Epson 11000XL getting ready to scan

Images from the flatbed scanner were cropped and saved to our servers directly from the VueScan software while images captured with our camera setup were edited and processed with Capture One CH.

Capture One CH Software
Typical Capture One CH session

While both pieces of software are quite powerful, they both have very different features. We primarily use VueScan as a scanning/processing software, while Capture One has the added bonus of offering file management and batch processing features as well as powerful capture tools. This allows us to quickly capture hundreds of photos consecutively and apply a set of edits/crops to the entire project at once. Capture One CH also offers specialized auto-crop and batch-crop features, which can be a massive time saver.

Once the images are all processed and saved onto our servers, they move onto final steps which include quality control, metadata creation, and loading of the images into DigiNole. Once the project has been safely uploaded, we will be ready to start all over with the second batch of newspapers! These newspapers will become part of the Leon High School Collection where we already have a full set of yearbooks for our users to browse.

We are ready to start digitizing the second batch of Leon High Newspapers after the holiday break, so keep an eye out for them to show up in Diginole later in 2019!

Happy Holidays from FSU Special Collections & Archives

Our Reading Rooms will be closed until January 2, 2019. Please note Strozier Library is also closed until this date starting December 17, 2018.

Our hours January 2-4, 2019 will be 10am to 4:30pm. We will resume normal operating hours on Monday, January 7, 2019.

We wish you all a safe and merry holiday season!

Page from Dear Santa Clause, 1901
Page from Dear Santa Clause, 1901 [see original object]

A Moment in Time: Nostalgia in the Shaw Manuscript Collection

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Celita Summa who was our Shaw expert this semester as she shifted through his personal papers to select for a digitization project. She’s going abroad in the spring and we’ll miss her. Bon Voyage Celita!

While sifting through the Shaw manuscript collection, I discovered that many of Shaw’s collecting practices were driven by nostalgia and the important human connections formed during childhood. Although his manuscript collection is vast, both in scope and length (it measures over 46 linear feet in length), Shaw was clearly incentivized to collect in order to preserve the things he held most dear- friends, family, and childhood memories.

One of the objects in the collection is a small pocket calendar used by the 14-year-old Shaw to record his immigration to America. In the margins, he indicated his family’s last day in Scotland, their voyage at sea, and their first day in America. He noted that his devoutly Presbyterian family did not fail to miss Sunday service their first weekend in America. The inclusion of this object represents Shaw’s own passage from his Scottish childhood to American manhood, as he would begin employment shortly after settling down in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Pictured above is John Mackay Shaw’s week at sea.

 

Shaw indicates another motivator for the collection as he attempts to preserve memories that will forever remain in his childhood years. Throughout the collection, correspondence with some of his childhood best friends is featured heavily. There is a map of Shaw and Jimmy Macaulay’s childhood stomping grounds, mock newsletters the two drew up for each other, and even one of Macaulay’s commonplace books. I wondered what the reason for this might be, until I stumbled across wartime letters between the two long-time friends, along with a notice of Macaulay’s death.

 

IMG_1903.jpeg
In his death notice, Macaulay was referred to as the “bravest and cheeriest of his platoon.” Here he is shortly before his death.

 

IMG_1904
This is a copy of the letter that informed Jimmy Macaulay’s family of his death.

Both men served in World War I, and Jimmy was not Shaw’s only loss due to the war. Another friend, Alfred Hendricks, was in frequent correspondence with Shaw. One day Shaw’s letter was returned unanswered, in an envelope marked “deceased.” Shaw’s inclusion of Macaulay and Hendricks in the collection depicts the unbreakable bond forged between childhood friends.

IMG_1905.jpeg
Inside this envelope is contained the last letter John Mackay Shaw wrote to Alfred Hendricks. It is returned marked “deceased.”

Another aspect that drove Shaw’s manuscript collection was his own children. In fact, his kids were the very catalyst for the book collection and his own published works of poetry. In the manuscript collection, he includes his own children’s poems along with those he wrote specifically for them. By creating the “Childhood in Poetry” collection, Shaw preserved the themes he valued the most in his life, from friendship and fatherhood to memories of his childhood home and relatives.

 

Celebrating Dirac’s Nobel Prize

This December is the 85th anniversary of Paul Dirac’s Nobel Prize for Physics. Dirac was an English theoretical physicist who became a fundamental contributor to the development of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. The Dirac Equation, which was formulated in 1928, described the behavior of fermions, or subatomic particles, and predicted the existence of antimatter.

In 1933, just a few years after the creation of this equation, Dirac became the youngest theoretical physicist to receive the award. He received the Nobel Prize for Physics alongside Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist who, like Dirac, developed a number of fundamental results in quantum and atomic theory. Dirac’s discoveries led to him being famously known as the “Father of Modern Physics.”

Telegram from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science informing Paul Dirac that he and Professor Schrodinger are being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics
Telegram from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science informing Paul Dirac that he and Professor Erwin Schrodinger are being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, 1933. See original item here.

FSU Special Collections & Archives houses The Paul A.M. Dirac Papers which contains photographs, correspondence, books, manuscripts of scientific papers, and calculations. Images of Dirac with famous individuals within the scientific community such as Albert Einstein or Werner Heisenberg and dozens of letters to Dirac after his receiving of the Nobel Prize can also be found in the collection. You can also explore more of the collection’s Nobel Prize materials, as well as other digitized materials, in DigiNole, FSU’s digital repository.

Written by Michaela Westmoreland, an Editing, Writing, and Media undergraduate student working as a Library and Museum Assistant with the Special Collections & Archives of FSU’s Strozier Library. This semester, she has been working directly with The Paul A.M. Dirac Papers to create metadata records for the photographs of the collection for future digitization.