Tag Archives: Nobel Prize

1925-1933: The Years That Count


Paul Dirac lecturing at blackboard, Iowa City, Iowa. (original image)

There is no question as to whether Paul Dirac was a great scientist. From his keen eye for mathematical beauties to his contributions as a pioneer in quantum mechanics, one can only argue that Dirac was anything but ordinary.

Dirac’s peak was between the years of 1925 and 1933. Despite being only one of many theoreticians who aided in the discovery of quantum mechanics, Dirac’s contribution was entirely special. He created a clear vision for quantum mechanics as it became a new branch of science and as Freeman Dyson puts it, “His great discoveries were like exquisitely carved marble statues falling out of the sky, one after another” (Farmelo 428).


Paul Dirac with W. Heisenberg (with newspaper) in street. (original image)

During this time, Dirac held an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 which allowed him to fund his research for the next three years. He also made close connections with theoretical physicist and quantum mechanics pioneer Werner Heisenberg starting in 1925, which would start a fifty-year friendship. At the young age of 24, Dirac completed his Ph.D. and produced the first thesis on quantum mechanics ever to be produced.

Unlike other quantum theoreticians, whose papers were hard on the eyes and imperfectly formed, Dirac’s book The Principles of Quantum Mechanics gave this new field a fine, polished look. He presented quantum mechanics as if it were a work of art—and to him it most surely was. In 1933, Dirac was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics alongside Erwin Schrödinger for “the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory” which arose from his years of research.

Despite being somewhat of an unknown face in a scientific community where intellectual giants such as Einstein and Darwin are most remembered, Dirac can be “counted as one of the greatest of all scientist” because the notions which were put forth by him are still being developed and continue to contribute to modern thinking (429). Today, scientists can smash together particles at high energies. They have created a huge particle accelerator at CERN which can recreate the conditions of the universe to within a millionth of a millionth of a second of the beginning of time. Dirac acted as a stepping stone for the scientific community by taking the position of a co-discoverer and by authoring the action-principle formulation of quantum mechanics.

Sources:

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

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.