Showing posts with label historic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historic. Show all posts

7 Physicists Who Were Also Great Musicians

brian may albert einstein physics music physicists who were musicians

Physics and music - two wildly separate fields, both make life joyous and beautiful in their own ways. Without the laws of physics, there would be no sunset, rainbow or internet, and without music, the living couldn’t so eloquently express feelings such as, say a heartbreak.

Following is a list of 7 physicists who also played music:

Brian May:

English musician and astrophysicist Brian May is the co-founder of one of the greatest rock bands in history - Queen. He was the lead guitarist and songwriter while being the member of immensely successful musical group.

Brian graduated with a BSc (hons) degree in physics from Imperial College in London. In 1974, when he was a doctoral student, Queen became so popular that Brian abandoned his studies to focus on the band.

In 2006, Brian May re-registered for his doctorate degree and completed his thesis within a year. His revised thesis was approved and he got his PhD in 2007 from Imperial College London after over 30 years of wait.

Albert Einstein:

Einstein’s interest in music developed as a child thanks to his mother, who was a reasonably decent piano player. She wanted her son to also learn the violin and help him assimilate into the German musical culture.

Einstein began learning both the instruments from the young age of 5. By 16, he had mastered Mozart’s and Beethoven’s violin sonatas. Einstein displayed a deep love and appreciation of classical music - a quality that was and remains in short supply.

Einstein said years later, “If I were not a physicist, I would be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.”

Max Planck:

The founding father of quantum theory was gifted when it came to music. Max Planck played various musical instruments including piano, organ and cello. Moreover, he also composed his own songs and operas. Einstein and Planck played together, finding not only a shared love for physics but also music.

Brian Cox:

Popular English particle physicist Brian Cox started his career as a piano and keyboard player in the rock band Dare. They released two studio albums with Cox in 1988 and 1991 respectively. Brian then joined another group - D:Ream, with whom he had several hits including the number one song, ‘Things can only get better’ that was also used as a New Labour election song.

Richard Feynman:

Feynman took Bongo, a relatively obscure musical instrument and made it mainstream. Feynman used to organize mini concerts for his students and played along with his friend Ralph Leighton - they even sang together, while drumming. Feynman is most easily recognized by a black and white picture in the Caltech archives, donning an ordinary white shirt and tailored pants, with a big smile on his face - playing his favorite percussive instrument.

Satyendra Nath Bose:

Well known Indian physicist in whose honor Bosons are named, was a person of varied interests. Bose was well versed in several languages such as Bengali, English, French, German and Sanskrit. He played an Indian stringed musical instrument similar to violin, called the Esraj, like a master. He was trained in Indian classical music and occasionally sang poems of Rabindranath Tagore and Kalidasa.

Werner Heisenberg:

Heisenberg is famous for laying the foundations of quantum mechanics. But very few are aware of his other interest - music. Like Einstein, Werner Heisenberg too came in contact with music from an early age.

Heisenberg could read sheet music when only 4 years old, so it is said that he was a prodigy. Heisenberg’s parents wanted him to become a concert pianist - however - his love of physics outgrew his love of music. Heisenberg's work in physics irked Einstein to such an extent that he commented, “God does not play dice with the Universe”.

Five Quotes By Richard Feynman On Politics

richard feynman political views

Nobel Prize winning American physicist Richard Feynman, known for pioneering the field of quantum electrodynamics, was more famous for his outspokenness. "I learned from my father: have no respect whatsoever for authority," Feynman once said.

Richard never showed admiration for any politician. Given how individualistic and anti-authoritarian Feynman was, if forced to run for President, it would probably be as an independent. Following are Feynman's views on politics.


In 1963, Feynman stated during a lecture: I believe in limited government. I believe that government should be limited in many ways, and what I am going to emphasize is only an intellectual thing.

No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated.

Feynman added: Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literary or artistic expression.

According to Richard Feynman, it is the duty of a government to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and development of the human race.


Feynman played a crucial role on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the 1986 Challenger disaster. He was dying of cancer at the time, but felt it was necessary to use his last productive days on the government project.

Feynman wrote in his report: NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative. For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.


Feynman believed democracy to be a scientific type of government. Only in this system, Feynman declared, new ideas can be developed, tried out and tossed away if necessary, with more ideas brought in  — a trial and error system.

Feynman said: Democracy was a result of the fact that science was already showing itself to be a successful venture at the end of the eighteenth century. It was clear to people even then that doubt and discussion were essential to progress.


Feynman joked in 1987: There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it is only a hundred billion. It is less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.


Feynman demonstrated why a scientist can never become the president. Suppose two politicians are running for president, and one goes through the farm section and is asked, "What are you going to do about the farm question?" And he knows right away — bang, bang, bang.

The second campaigner goes: "I don't know anything about farming. But it seems to me it must be a very difficult problem, because for twelve, fifteen, twenty years people have been struggling with it. And it must be a hard problem...

…So the way I intend to solve the farm problem is to gather around me a lot of people who know something about it, to look at all the experience that we have had with this problem before, to take a certain amount of time at it, and then to come to some conclusion in a reasonable way about it."

According to Feynman, the second candidate would not get anywhere in America. This is in the attitude of mind of the populace, that they have to have an answer and that a man who gives an answer is better than a man who gives no answer, when in most cases, it is the other way around.

Because there is lack of respect for people who are trying to solve problems, such a candidate can get to nowhere. Whereas, the politician can make tall claims and promises and fool people time and time again. The attitude of the populace is to blame, says Feynman.

Summing up:

Richard Feynman favored democratically elected government and likened it to the scientific method. He envisions a system in which doubt and discussion are not frowned upon. As an independent thinker Feynman is against all kinds of authority — religious, political or scientific.

How Antimatter Was Discovered By Carl Anderson

positron antimatter carl anderson paul dirac

British physicist Paul Dirac showed in 1928 that every particle in the universe should have an antiparticle with the same mass as its twin, but with the opposite electrical charge. Across the pond, an American physicist would detect the first such particle, four years later.

Carl Anderson, inspired by the work of his Caltech classmate, Chung-Yao Chao, set up an experiment to investigate cosmic rays under the supervision of physicist Robert Millikan. In 1932, he won the Nobel Prize in physics at the age of 31, becoming one of the youngest recipients.

Discovering the positron was no easy feat but the mechanism he employed to do so was fairly simple and ingenious enough to overcome the limited budget. He found the mysterious particle almost by accident with the help of his own improved version of the cloud chamber.

A cloud chamber is a sealed box with water vapor. When a charged particle goes through it, the vapour is ionized and leaves behind a trail. Thus, the trajectory of the particle can be seen virtually. Carl used a mixture of water and alcohol to get clearer photographs.

carl anderson cloud chamber positron antimatter paul dirac

Carl included a Lead plate in the middle to slow down the particles and surrounded the chamber with a large electromagnet, which caused the paths of ionizing particles to curve under the influence of magnetic field.

As can be seen in the picture, the radius of curvature of the track above the plate is smaller than that below. Thus, the particle entered from the bottom, hit the Lead plate and came to a halt above it due to loss of energy. This and the direction in which the path curved helped in identifying that the charge was positive.

That it was antielectron and not proton was determined by the observation that the upper track was much longer in length than predicted for proton. A proton would have come to rest in a much shorter distance, since it is heavier. The trajectory observed was that of a particle much much lighter than the proton.

So, that's how the first antimatter was found and Dirac was proven right within a matter of few years. Furthermore, antiproton and antineutron were discovered in 1955 and 1956 respectively. The first antiatom was produced by CERN in 1996.

Why antimatter is important? Because, studies related to antimatter will help in our understanding of the early universe. Also, Positron emission tomography or PET scan is used to detect early signs of cancer. Scientists hope that some day, antimatter may be used for the treatment of cancer. Who knows!?

What Motivated Them To Become Physicists?

why do people become scientists?

While several physicists like James Clerk Maxwell, John von Neumann and Lev Landau were child prodigies, most of the scientific greats developed an interest in science thanks to the environment they were brought up in.

study conducted by Pew Research found that 27% scientists were motivated by their school teachers, 17% were inspired by childhood trips to science fairs and 12% became scientists thanks to family encouragement.

In this post, let us learn what motivated Geniuses like Einstein, Tesla, Feynman, Hawking and others to become scientists.

Richard Feynman

Feynman's father, Melville was an immigrant from Minsk, who although a uniform salesman by profession, had always wanted to become a scientist.

In one interview, Feynman recalled: When I was a child, my father would often let me sit on his lap and read to me from Encyclopedia Britannica.

Melville also encouraged his daughter Joan, nine years younger than Richard, to take up an interest in astronomy. She became a distinguished astrophysicist later on.

Albert Einstein

On Einstein's fifth birthday, his father gifted him a compass which left a deep and lasting impression upon the five year old. He noticed that the needle always pointed in the same direction no matter which way he turned the compass.

why did einstein become a scientist?

Einstein wrote years later: "It made me wonder why this needle behaved in such a determined way. Something deeply hidden had to be behind things." Thus, the compass was his introduction to scientific enquiry.

Stephen Hawking

Hawking was born in a family of intellectuals – Both his parents attended the University of Oxford, where his father studied medicine and his mother read philosophy.

He was enrolled at St. Albans school where he was nicknamed Einstein, despite his grades being below average. But of course, there was a reason why his friends called him that...

Hawking used to build model boats and aeroplanes at his home. In 1958, with help from his maths teacher, Dikran Tahta, Hawking and friends built a computer from clock parts, telephone switchboard and other recycled parts.

Carl Sagan

In 1993, Carl wrote: My parents knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.

His love for science was aroused at only 4 years old when his parents took him to the 1939 New York World's Fair where he witnessed the America of tomorrow – spiraling buildings, flying cars and smartphones.

Nikola Tesla

Tesla's mother had a talent for making mechanical appliances at home. She could also recite Serbian epic poems by heart. Nikola thus credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother's genes and influence.

He attended junior high school in Karlovac, central Croatia where he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics professor. Tesla later wrote that these demonstrations made him want to know more of this wonderful force.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

She is an astrophysicist who found the first radio pulsar in 1967. Her discovery was recognized by the Nobel Committee with a physics Prize, but despite being the one to identify the pulsar, she wasn't among the recipients.

why do people become scientists?

Young Jocelyn discovered her father's books on astronomy and developed an early interest. However, at school, the girls' curriculum only included cooking and stitching classes, rather than science.

Her parents protested against the school policy, but to no avail. So they sent her to another school where she was permitted to study science. Jocelyn was impressed by her physics teacher, Mr. Tillott. She recalled: He was a really good teacher and showed me, actually, how easy physics was.

Marie Curie

Her father, Władysław Skłodowski was a mathematics and physics teacher. After Russian authorities banned laboratory instruction from Polish schools, Skłodowski brought much of the lab equipment home and instructed Maria in its use, at a young age.

Ed Witten

Mathematician and physicist Edward Witten, winner of the Fields Medal, grew up hearing about physics from his father, Louis Witten, who himself was a gravitational physicist. "I would talk to Ed about science the way I would talk with adults." Louis told The Guardian.

Summing up:

It can be concluded that parents and teachers who nurture the curiosity of children often help them towards a career in science. Whether it be book reading, gifts like model train, compass or general encouragement; early guidance is always ideal in making of a great scientist.

Heisenberg and his views on quantum mechanics

werner heisenberg uncertainty principle quantum mechanics quotes

Werner Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932 for the creation of quantum mechanics. He was only 25 years old when he discovered the uncertainty principle. Although at the time Heisenberg did not understand his own work, so he handed it to his immediate supervisor, Max Born, and went on vacation.

Absurdity of nature

Heisenberg was one of the very first people to recognize the ridiculousness of quantum mechanics. It was mind-boggling because it did not agree with the existing physics. His discussions with Niels Bohr went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair.

At the end of their talks, Heisenberg used to go for a walk in the neighboring park and repeated to himself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be so absurd as it seemed in the atomic experiments?

Heisenberg quipped: "The smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language."

He derived inspiration from Greek and Eastern philosophies to arrive at some understanding of his work. "All things are numbers", a sentence attributed to Pythagoras especially attracted his attention. A conversation with Tagore about Indian philosophy also made some sense out of the ideas that seemed to him crazy.

Uncertainty principle

In Feb, 1927, Heisenberg wrote in a paper: The words "position" and "velocity" of an electron seemed perfectly well defined before and in fact they were clearly understood concepts within the mathematical framework of Newtonian mechanics.

But actually they were not well defined, as seen from the relations of uncertainty. The more precise the measurement of position, the more imprecise the measurement of momentum, and vice versa. In other words, there was complementarity between the two.

It's worth pointing out that the uncertainty is not a measurement problem but arises due to the wave nature of all quantum objects. Thus, it actually is a "fundamental property" of quantum objects and not a statement about the observational success of current technology.

The main problem was this: A physicist may be satisfied when there is a mathematical scheme and an interpretation of the experiment. But he also has to speak about his results to non-physicists who will not be satisfied unless some pictorial explanation is given in plain language.

Heisenberg's defence

Heisenberg said: "It is not surprising that our language should be incapable of describing the processes occurring within the atoms, for, it was invented to describe the experiences of daily life, and these consist only of processes involving exceedingly large numbers of atoms.

Furthermore, it is very difficult to modify our language so that it will be able to describe these atomic processes, for words can only describe things of which we can form mental pictures, and this ability, too, is a result of daily experience.

Fortunately, mathematics is not subject to this limitation, and it has been possible to invent a mathematical scheme – the quantum theory – which seems entirely adequate for the treatment of atomic processes; and for visualization."

His biggest opponent was Albert Einstein who did not endorse the uncertainty principle as a fundamental law of nature until his death. He had famously remarked: "God does not play dice with the universe" as a joke. Niels Bohr, an advocate of uncertainty principle, replied: "Don't tell God what he can and cannot do."

When A Teacher Learned From His Student

teacher's day india 2020 ramanujan hardy friendship

This is a special post about the relationship between a renowned student-and-teacher duo. They are Srinivasa Ramanujan and G.H. Hardy respectively, two of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century.

The lesson to learn here is that students are more "bindaas" meaning that they find hope when there's none...They discover joy even in the darkest of moments. Teachers, on the other hand, or adults beaten down by life's hardships, take themselves and life much too seriously.

Professor Hardy went to see Srinivasa Ramanujan in the hospital, who was terminally ill due to prolonged tuberculosis. Since they were both mathematicians, they always used to quip about numbers and letters.

Hardy, depressed over the fact that his dear student was going to die soon, remarked, that the taxi he had ridden in had a rather dull and ominous number... or so he felt.

"No sir!" A weak Ramanujan, replied after a brief pause. "It is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."

After pondering, Hardy couldn't help but smile. Hardy was the one to recognize Ramanujan's genius, and brought him to Cambridge University. Even now in his deathbed Hardy's favorite student managed to save the day.

The number happened to be 1729 which can be written in the following two ways:

1729 = 1³ + 12³

1729 = 9³ + 10³

Such numbers are called Hardy-Ramanujan numbers in the honor of their relationship. They are more commonly called taxicab numbers in pure mathematics.

There is a scene in the film, The Man Who Knew Infinity in which Dev Patel, who plays Ramanujan says, "I owe you so much." Professor Hardy, played by Jeremy Irons, looks him in the eye. "No, it is I who owes you!"

This Is How Dirac Predicted Antimatter

how did paul dirac predict antimatter dirac sea quantum mechanics

For those who don't know anything about English theoretical physicist Paul Dirac: he has often been compared to one of the fathers of physics, Sir Isaac Newton. Both were genius mathematicians; socially awkward; they made their greatest breakthroughs in their twenties; both held the Lucasian chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University.

But some may consider Dirac an even greater scientist due to many reasons. While Newton, in his day, became much involved with pseudosciences such as alchemy; he even attempted to reconcile science with faith through his writings. Paul Dirac, on the other hand, an outspoken agnostic, remained true to scientific path, and went on to make many significant contributions to the theory of everything.

Furthermore, while Newton was considered arrogant, too full of himself, who often made use of his authority to dismiss others' opinions. Dirac, on the other hand, was a lean, meek, shy young fellow, who suffered agonies if forced into any kind of small talk. He coined the term Fermion after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, despite him having worked on the equation which governed the behavior of Fermions.

So that was a little background information on the man that was Paul Dirac. Unfortunately, he never was popularized enough, in fact, hardly anyone knows anything about who he was or what he did in his scientific career. Even so, his work is of primary importance to electronics, especially how electrons flow in the transistor, devices which form the building blocks of any modern-day computer.

What's more: his biggest discovery, prediction of anti-particle, has inspired numerous science fiction writers to create a mirror world in their stories, the collision of which with the real world, would lead to a whole lot of catastrophic activity in the lives of their characters. This is based upon Dirac's work that when matter and antimatter collide, they annihilate one another.

In the early twentieth century, Dirac, who had just completed his engineering degree, was unemployed. But this made him choose math as a career and thank goodness he did so! Because, a great quantum revolution was ongoing and Dirac, who had merely remained an observer, was keen on becoming a part of it.

Everybody at that time was talking about a young Austrian physicist named Erwin Schrödinger. He just had formulated wave mechanics, that is, an equation which explained the behavior of electron inside an atom. The wave equation, so it was called, gave the probability of finding the electron at any given point inside the atom.

Dirac realized that Schrödinger's wave equation was inconsistent with special theory of relativity. In other words, even though the equation was enough to describe the electronic motion at low velocity, it was yet unable to do the same at speeds approaching that of light. Dirac took this challenge upon himself to find a solution for it.

Unlike other physicists, those who insisted that revelations in physics be firmly grounded on experimental data, (and rightly so) Dirac relied heavily on mathematical consistency instead. To him, if the equation he found had mathematical beauty, then he just assumed that he was going on the correct path. This just goes on to show that Paul Dirac was more of a mathematician rather than a staunch physicist.

After many years, in 1928, Dirac modified the Schrödinger's equation to make it agreeable with Einstein's special relativity. His groundbreaking equation also defined the concepts of spin and magnetic moment of electron. While developing his equation, Dirac realized that Einstein's famous energy-mass relation, E=mc², was only partially right. The correct formula, he claimed, should be E=±mc², the minus sign because one has to take the square root of E²=m²c^4, which was a subtle correction indeed.

But then, according to an axiom of physics, matter particles always tend to the state of lowest energy - for stability. Therefore, the negative sign in E=mc² would imply that all the electrons tumble down to infinitely large negative energy. That is, an electron in a positive energy state (bound or free) should be able to emit a photon and make a transition to a negative energy state. This process could continue forever giving off an infinite amount of light!

Clearly, that isn't the case in the actual, stable universe; real electrons do not behave in such a way. So it made Dirac think of a solution to the problem: he proposed a theoretical model called the Dirac Sea in which he imagined that all the negative energy states were already occupied, meaning, that an electron in positive state could not tumble down to negative energy (since according to Pauli's exclusion principle, no two electrons could share a single energy state).

If a particle of this negative energy sea is given sufficient energy it is possible for it to rise into a positive energy state. A resulting "hole" would be created in the negative energy sea. This hole should have the same mass as the original electron but behave like a positively-charged particle.

Dirac wrote in 1931, after being suggested by Oppenheimer, that this hole was an anti-electron; a re-combination with electron should annihilate both of them. Because, when the electron comes into contact with the hole it spontaneously fills the hole and consequently must release the excess energy that went in.

In 1932, while examining the composition of cosmic rays, high-energy particles that move through space at nearly the speed of light, American physicist Carl Anderson discovered the positron. He observed that a particular particle in the ray behaved out of the ordinary. The trajectory suggested that it had to be positively charged but at the same time 1/1,836 the mass of a proton, exactly that of an electron.

In his 1933 Nobel Prize lecture, Dirac suggested that particle-antiparticle should be a fundamental symmetry of nature. He interpreted the Dirac equation to mean that for every particle there existed a corresponding antiparticle, exactly matching the particle mass but with opposite charge. In 1955, antiproton was discovered by University of California, Berkeley physicists.

The success of Dirac equation shows that a mathematical result can manifest itself in the real world. Paul Dirac had once said, "If you are receptive and humble, mathematics will lead you by the hand." That is pretty much true; his work has been described fully on par with the works of Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein before him. Dirac was undoubtedly a genius.
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