Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Physicist Extraordinaire- Science Friday On A New Book On Paul Dirac

Science Friday has a really interesting talk with Graham Farmelo on his new book on Paul Dirac - The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom.

What's my connection to this great man? Later in his career Paul Dirac joined Florida State University, Tallahassee which was my Alma mater too. I walked often past his statue on the way to the Dirac Science Library. 

Farmelo gives a good account of Dirac in that talk as a reticent personality, who avoided people...but not unaware of the importance of knowing the right people....he did make sure he was standing right behind Einstein in a group photo at a conference.

Meanwhile from my book shelf in one of the best science autobiographies I have read- Sir Fred Hoyle's vibrant and entertaining Home Is Where The Wind Blows- I found the following nuggets about Hoyle's interaction with Dirac:

Shortly after inveigling me into the secretaryship of the Delta-Squared V Club, Maurice Pryce left Cambridge to take up a lectureship at Liverpool University. If I was to retain my student status with the Inland Revenue, another research supervisor was therefore needed. Pryce suggested Dirac, so I went to Dirac and explained the situation. Although normally he didn't accept  students, Dirac broke his rule on this occasion because he simply couldn't resist the circular counterlogic of a supervisor who didn't want a research student who didn't want a supervisor.


More than any other person I have known, Dirac raised the meaning of words and syntax to a level of precision that was mathematical in its accuracy. He had nothing at all of the irritating habit of attempting to read hidden significance  into your remarks. He paid everybody the compliment of supposing they knew exactly what they were saying, a compliment he sometimes took to extreme lengths.

how great was Dirac..?.......like truly great minds he is posthumously productive...  says Farmelo.

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