kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

Perspective: Sage, soul and scourge

SOME physicists are household names. Others are given nicknames.

Albert Einstein was called the "Sage". Some women had a fascination for him. One even wrote to him saying "I love you although I know I am not worthy of your love".

Paul Dirac was called the "Pure Soul of Physics". He had no worldly pretensions. He relished the power and elegance of Mathematics in elucidating Physics.

Some women had a fascination for Albert Einstein. —
Picture courtesy of

Italian physicist Enrico Fermi was called the "Pope".

He knew Physics at his fingertips. He was equally at home with theory and experiment.

Wolfgang Pauli, ever so critical, caustic and cynical, was not so well-liked but was well-respected. His famous words when spurning a fellow physicist were "It is not even wrong!" His colleagues dubbed him the "Scourge of God".

The foursome were eminent in their own way. John Balchin included Einstein and Fermi in his book In Quantum Leaps -- 100 Scientists Who Changed the World. Both played a crucial role in the building of the first atomic bombs -- a deterrent as well as a weapon of mass destruction.

When Fermi emigrated to the United States, he was branded as enemy alien. He later gained the trust of his adopted country by being given a crucial role in the highly secretive Manhattan Project. Interestingly, in the book History Makers -- 100 Most Influential People of the Twentieth Century, the authors selected Einstein and Fermi as two of the luminaries. Dirac and Pauli were not included.

When Einstein died on April 18, 1955, many were asking who would be the new Einstein. His shoes were too big to fill. The two contending candidates were Dirac and Pauli. There was, however, no consensus. If Einstein were given a choice, he would go for Pauli. Both of them used to banter with one another in a sarcastic yet friendly way. Einstein saw in Pauli his young abrasive self, sort of his alter ego. Whenever Einstein lost in an argument over Physics to Pauli, he gave back as good as he got by calling Pauli "you rascal". Only Einstein could say that to Pauli with impunity.

In their book 112 Mercer Street, Burton Feldman and Katherine Williams wrote that at Einstein's death, the unusually acerbic Pauli was immeasurably touched. He wrote to fellow laureate Max Born: "Now that affectionate, fatherly friend is gone, never will I forget the speech he gave about me and for me in Princeton in 1945 after I had received the Nobel Prize. It was like a King who abdicates and installs me, as a kind of chosen son, a successor."

That says a lot for the special bond. Together they stimulated each other and flourished.

Koh Aik Khoon   NST Channels Learning curve09/03/2014
Tags: sage, scourge, soul

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