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Download H.A. Kramers Between Tradition and Revolution epub

by Max Dresden

It is now a little more than 11 years since the idea of writing a personal and scientific biography of H. A. Kramers took hold of me. A few days earlier I had been lecturing, in a course on field theory, on the renormalization proce­ dures of relativistic quantum field theory. Since the students had considerable trouble understanding the physical basis of the procedure, at the end of the lecture T explained that renormalization is not an exclusive quantum or relativistic procedure. A careful treatment of classical electron theory as started by Lorentz and developed in detail by Kramers also requires re­ normalization. The students appeared quite interested and I promised them that I would explain all this in more detail in the next lecture. I could have looked up this material in Kramers' book, but I remembered that Kramers had stressed this idea in a course I had attended in Leiden in 1938-1939. I did dig up some of these old notes and, although they were considerably less transparent than my recollection seemed to indicate, they reminded me force­ fully of the thrilling days I had spent in Leiden with Kramers. Kramers' deep insight and originality were apparent even when distorted by my opaque notes. The students had never heard of these ideas of Kramers' and were totally unaware of his work in field theory.
Download H.A. Kramers Between Tradition and Revolution epub
ISBN: 0387962824
ISBN13: 978-0387962825
Category: Biographies
Subcategory: Professionals & Academics
Author: Max Dresden
Language: English
Publisher: Springer (June 17, 1987)
Pages: 563 pages
ePUB size: 1714 kb
FB2 size: 1348 kb
Rating: 4.5
Votes: 376
Other Formats: txt docx lrf lrf

This book has been more interesting then I could have imagined.
Max Dresden, a prominent Dutch-born American theoretical physicist, is the author of this wonderful book--which is a biography of his fellow countryman and theoretical physicist Hendrik Antonie Kramers--as well as a sparkling account of the revolution in early twentieth century physics that led to quantum mechanics.

Born in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in 1894, Kramers assumed the nickname "Hans" as a boy. He went on to study physics at the University of Leiden, followed by the unusual step of traveling to Copenhagen in 1916 to convince Denmark's newly-minted first professor of theoretical physics, Niels Bohr, to hire him as an assistant. In doing so Kramers got in on the ultimate "ground floor" of physics, establishing himself as Bohr's first and only assistant--long before Bohr's famous institute was established in 1921. Kramers continued as Bohr's second-in-command at the institute, or as Wolfgang Pauli later said, "Bohr is Allah and Kramers is his prophet." In his work with Bohr, Kramers played a significant role in the development of quantum theory. Of particular note is the 1924 paper that Kramers wrote with Bohr and Slater (BKS theory), and which laid much of the groundwork for Werner Heisenberg's 1925 paper that would establish matrix mechanics and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. In 1926 Kramers left Bohr's institute to assume the professorship at University of Utrecht, leaving Heisenberg to assume the position of Bohr's adjutant.

I was also interested to learn that Kramers independently discovered what came to be known as the Dirac equation, the development of which was foreshadowed by Kramers discussion with Pauli regarding the possibility of a comprehensive theory that explained the origin of spin. Sadly for Kramers, however, his version of the Dirac equation was completed only a couple weeks after Dirac's result was published in 1928. Because he was scooped by Dirac, Kramers did not bother to publish his results, but waited almost another decade before including it as one of the final chapters of a textbook. Kramers had also done significant work in the development of electron mass renormalization in quantum electrodynamics--results which were hardly noticed by the rest of the physics community until the discovery of the Lamb shift in 1947. Kramers' efforts in mass renormalization did finally come to light during his participation in the Shelter Island Conference in 1947. These near misses with respect to achieving a greater level of fame led to some of the great men of physics to describe Kramers' career with certain qualifications. In discussions stimulated by Kramers' death in 1952, Bohr even went so far as to lament that Kramers was "without ambition."

In addition to describing Kramers' career in physics, the author comments on the contributions of many other great men in physics. I was surprised to learn that it was Konrad Lorentz who first recognized the problem of wave packet dispersion when Schrodinger's famous 1926 paper appeared. It is also interesting that Bohr strongly resisted claims that called for existence of photons. The author also draws an interesting contrast between the three major research institutes that played the principal roles in the development of quantum mechanics: Copenhagen, Gottingen, and Munich (p.37). Of course Copenhagen was led by Niels Bohr and was well-known for an informal atmosphere which fostered so many rich collaborations. A completely different atmosphere was that of Gottingen, with Max Born taking the lead in theoretical physics. The University of Gottingen was known for its formal and rigorous approach to mathematics as exemplified by David Hilbert, and which Wolfgang Pauli jokingly characterized as "Gottingen Learnedness." Theoretical physics at the University of Munich revolved around Arnold Sommerfeld, who advised such brilliant students as Pauli, Heisenberg, Bethe, and Debye, as well as numerous accomplished post-docs. Sommerfeld encouraged his students to address concrete problems using a mathematically sophisticated approach, leaving philosophical rumination to Bohr and his associates.

The author also devotes ample space to Kramers' personal life as a thoroughly decent man in the most trying of times. Kramers was one of the 53 professors (out of a total of 56) who resigned from the University of Leiden in March 1940 rather than accept the antisemitic dictates of the occupying Nazi forces (p.499). While the university was closed Kramers continued to teach in secret, so as to provide for a generation of students who might otherwise be lost.

I should also mention that the Max Dresden goes far beyond giving the biographical details of Kramers' life and career. Ample space and attention are also devoted to a detailed and mathematically complete description of Kramers' contributions to theoretical physics--especially with respect to Bohr-Kramers-Slater Theory and Kramers' renormalization of the electron mass.