Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics

Gino Segre, Author . Viking $25.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-670-03858-9

Segrè (A Matter of Degrees ) once again applies a human scale to important physics topics in a way that's as informative and accessible as it is appealing. Beginning in 1929, Niels Bohr hosted an annual gathering in Copenhagen for his fellow physicists, where they joked and argued about the new theory of quantum mechanics. Tradition demanded that the younger physicists entertain with a skit, and in 1932, the centenary of Goethe's death, the entertainment was Max Delbrück's parody of Faust , with the proponents of classical physics and the new quantum mechanics fighting for primacy. The discovery of the neutron and the positron had disturbed classical atomic theory, while quantum mechanics raised troubling issues, such as how one could find the true position of an electron and how the photon could be both a particle and a wave. Segrè brings the scientists and their ideas to vivid life, from convivial Bohr and iconoclastic Wolfgang Pauli (nicknamed "Scourge of God"), to emotionally guarded Werner Heisenberg, gracious Lise Meitner, reclusive Paul Dirac and others, as well as the consequences of their discoveries. For after 1932 came Hitler and WWII, and a new physics that could never be as intimate, or as innocent, as it had once been. (June 18)

Reviewed on: 04/09/2007
Release date: 07/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 310 pages - 978-0-14-311373-7
Open Ebook - 978-1-4464-6882-1
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-101-20238-8
Hardcover - 310 pages - 978-0-224-07256-4
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