- Published on 13 December 2019
A review of lectures given by Feynman between 1946 and 1971 showcase the strong influence that his involvement in the Manhattan Project held on his research, while revealing an intriguing mystery surrounding one particular amplifier device.
Richard Feynman was one of the 20th century’s most celebrated physicists. In 1943, he began his career in the Manhattan Project, where one of his tasks was to develop a device which could count the neutrons produced by nuclear reactions. Neutron signals emerging from counters must be strongly amplified to achieve this, but in the 1940s, practical amplification devices were hindered by their distorted signals. To overcome the issue, Feynman proposed a theoretical ‘reference amplifier’, which could provide amplifiers with a standard signal to be compared with. Through analysis published in EPJ H, researchers at the University of Naples, Italy, propose that this line of research exemplifies the influence which Feynman’s involvement in the Manhattan Project held over his later teaching and research.
- Published on 10 July 2019
The Festival de Théorie is held every two years in Aix-en-Provence and aims at fostering interdisciplinary research activity in the field of magnetised plasmas – including controlled fusion, space and astrophysics, with connections to fluid mechanics and geophysics, among others. Monday, 8 July 2019 was a special day devoted to honour Uriel Frisch who has recently edited a special issue on “Plasma physics in the 20th century as told by players” together with Pat Diamond and Yves Pomeau published in EPJH (link). The morning session started with an introduction by Pat Diamond, followed by lectures from Yves Pomeau, Roald Sagdeev, who had been interviewed for the special issue, and Sergey Nazarenko. The afternoon session was introduced by Sabine Lehr, in charge of the publication of the special issue at SpringerNature. It was followed by lectures from Fritz Wagner and Mitsuru Kikuchi, who had both contributed to the special issue, as well as from Jean Jacquinot who addressed aspects of Guy Laval’s contribution to this same issue. Afterwards there was a lively discussion.
Click here to access and read the special issue freely until the end of July 2019.
- Published on 06 May 2019
The Abraham Pais Prize for History of Physics is given annually to recognize outstanding scholarly achievements in the history of physics.
Helge Kragh, who is an Editor of EPJ H and author of the recently published SpringerBriefs “From Transuranic to Superheavy Elements - A Story of Dispute and Creation”, received the 2019 Abraham Pais Prize for History of Physics for "influential contributions to the history of physics, especially analyses of cosmological theories and debates, the history of the quantum physics of elementary particles and the solid state, and biographical studies of Paul Dirac and Niels Bohr, and his early quantum atom".
- Published on 26 March 2019
An invention from the 1950s is still being used today
What do televisions and space exploration have in common? No, we’re not talking about a cheesy physics joke; rather, this is the story of an often-overlooked piece of equipment that deserves a place in the annals of telecommunication history. Some would argue that the traveling-wave tube (TWT) has not received the recognition it deserves when it comes to the history of space travel and communications – until now. A group of researchers based at the Aix-Marseille Université in France has published a review looking into the history of TWTs, recently published in EPJ H.
- Published on 19 December 2018
The story of the generation of physicists involved in the development of a sustainable energy source, controlled fusion, using a method called magnetic confinement
Once upon a time, people thought that electrons and ions always stuck together, living happily ever after. However, under low density of matter or high temperatures, the components of matter are no longer bound together. Instead, they form plasma, a state of matter naturally occurring in our universe, which has since been harnessed for everyday applications such as TV screens, chip etching and torches, but also propulsion and even sustained energy production via controlled fusion.
In a fascinating editorial for a special plasma issue of EPJ H, called “Plasma physics in the 20th century as told by players”, three physicists share their perspectives on key events in the early history of plasma physics, in the first half of the 20th century. First, Patrick Diamond, from the University of California San Diego, USA, shares his recollections of the early days of wireless transmission and the description of the ‘Heavyside Layer’ (the electrically conducting layer of the upper atmosphere, which transmits radio waves). In turn, Yves Pomeau from the Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France, talks about the role of Irving Langmuir in the development of plasma physics theory, namely his calculation of the frequency of oscillation of electrons in a plasma environment with much heavier ions. Lastly, Uriel Frisch from the University Cote D’Azur in Nice, France, describes the birth of nuclear fusion theory.
- Published on 11 July 2018
Insights into its 100-year history reveal how the cosmological constant was marginalised by physicists before being reinstated by astronomers to explain the accelerated expansion of the universe
Physicists are now celebrating the 100th anniversary of the cosmological constant. On this occasion, two papers recently published in EPJ H highlight its role in modern physics and cosmology. Although the term was first introduced when the universe was thought to be static, today the cosmological constant has become the main candidate for representing the physical essence believed to be responsible for the accelerated expansion of our universe. Before becoming widely accepted, the cosmological constant was during decades the subject of many discussions about its necessity, its value and its physical essence. Today, there are still unresolved problems in understanding the deep physical nature of the phenomena associated with the cosmological constant.>
- Published on 16 May 2018
Revisiting the roots of a physics field known as computational statistical mechanics
It may sound like the stuff of fairy tales, but in the 1950s two numerical models initially developed as a pet project by physicists led to the birth of an entirely new field of physics: computational statistical mechanics. This story has recently appeared in a paper published in EPJ H, authored by Michel Mareschal, an Emeritus Professor of Physics at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. The article outlines the long journey leading to the acceptance of such models - namely Monte Carlo and Molecular Dynamics simulations - as reliable evidence for describing matter. This happened at a time when the computing power required to run simulations was scarce. Today, these techniques are used by thousands of researchers to model the behaviour of materials, in contexts ranging from fusion to biological systems.
- Published on 16 April 2018
Personal recollections of an astrophysicist shed new light on the 1995 discovery on 51 Pegasi b
In recent history, a very important achievement was the discovery, in 1995, of 51 Pegasi b, the first extrasolar planet ever found around a normal star other than the Sun. In a paper published in EPJ H, Davide Cenadelli from the Aosta Valley Astronomical Observatory (Italy) interviews Michel Mayor from Geneva Observatory (Switzerland) about his personal recollections of discovering this exoplanet. They discuss how the development of better telescopes made the discovery possible. They also delve into how this discovery contributed to shaping a new community of scholars pursuing this new field of research. In closing, they reflect upon the cultural importance that the 51 Pegasi b discovery had in terms of changing our view of the cosmos.
- Published on 27 February 2018
The personal memories of Jayant Narlikar point to the need for restoring cosmology as the flagship of astronomy
"Cosmologists are often wrong but never in doubt”, Russian physicist Lev Landau once said . In the early days, astronomers began by observing and modelling stars in different stages of evolution and comparing their findings with theoretical predictions. Stellar modelling uses well-tested physics, with concepts such as hydrostatic equilibrium, law of gravitation, thermodynamics, nuclear reactions etc. Yet in contrast, cosmology is based on a large number of untested physical assumptions, like nonbaryonic dark matter and dark energy whose physics has no proven link with the rest of physics. In a recent paper published in EPJ H, Jayant V. Narlikar, professor emeritus at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India, shares his personal reminiscences of the evolution of the subject of cosmology over six decades. He tells of the increase in our confidence in the standard model of cosmology to the extent that it has become a dogma.
- Published on 05 December 2017
The personal recollections of a physicist involved in developing a reference model in particle physics, called the Standard Model, particularly in Italy
Understanding the Universe requires first understanding its building blocks, a field covered by particle physics. Over the years, an elegant model of particle physics, dubbed the Standard Model, has emerged as the main point of reference for describing the fundamental components of matter and their interactions. The Standard Model is not confined to particle physics; it also provides us a guide to understanding phenomena that take place in the Universe at large, down to the first moments of the Big Bang, and it sets the stage for a novel cosmic problem, namely the identification of dark matter. Placing the Standard Model in a historical context sheds valuable light on how the theory came to be. In a remarkable paper published in EPJ H, Luciano Maiani from the University of Rome and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, Italy, shares his personal recollections with Luisa Bonolis from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany. During an interview recorded over several days in March 2016, Maiani outlines the role of those researchers who were instrumental in the evolution of theoretical particle physics in the years when the Standard Theory was developed.