Who are the greatest physicists of all time? Well, any self-respecting has to start of with Newton and Einstein, with Newton most likely going first. But what about number three? Can you think of the name of a third physicist? Odds are, unless you recently took some college physics, probably not. Today’s post is about the greatest physicist that most people have never heard of.
Yesterday, in one of the things I love about summer research, the BNL Physics department hosted Graham Farmelo to discuss his new biography of P. A. M. Dirac, who is my personal choice for the third greatest physicist of all time. Dirac was driven by his own sense of mathematical beauty, and his work during the development of Quantum Mechanics were shining moments of clarity in the midst of utter confusion and chaos. Freeman Dyson puts it best:
“His discoveries were like exquisitely carved marble statues falling out of the sky, one after another. He seemed to be able to conjure laws of nature from pure thought.”
Dirac played a pivotal role in the foundations of Quantum Mechanics, predicted antimatter, and invented quantum electrodynamics all in the span of a relatively few years. A nice testament to his legacy is the number of things which still bear his name: the Dirac equation, Fermi-Dirac statistics, the Dirac delta function, the Dirac monopole, and on it goes. But enough jargon, let’s get on to the good bits.
So why would Dr. Farmelo call his biography of Dirac The Strangest Man? Most physicists are a little strange (but delightfully odd in a charming way, we would like to believe), but Dirac outdoes us all. This is the guy that theoretical physicists consider weird and nerdy. This is the guy who climbs trees while wearing a three piece suit over his lunch break. Spend some time googling stories about Dirac and see what I mean. Tell us about any good stories you find in the comment section. Better yet, pick up a copy of The Strangest Man this summer and learn more about the greatest physicist that no one has ever heard of.
Consider looking for it at the library–it’s like a NetFlix for books!