Paul Dirac: The Mozart of Science


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Dirac began his first yearlong sabbatical at the Institute in the fall of 1934, a stay that later stood out as one of the most memorable times of his life. Working alone as usual, he intended to use his new approach of growing fundamental physical theories from purely mathematical seeds. But the year was dominated by two diversions. First, his closest friend, the Russian experimenter Peter Kapitza, was detained against his will by Stalin’s police during a summer visit when on vacation from Cambridge. As soon as Dirac heard about this, he spent months trying to get his friend released, on one occasion lobbying the Soviet Ambassador in Washington. Dirac’s second distraction began over lunch on Nassau Street when the Hungarian theoretician Eugene Wigner introduced him to his sister, who would later become Dirac’s wife, Manci Balazs. The Diracs were in many ways opposites—he was shy, modest, taciturn, and he often appeared cold and distant; she was outgoing, confident, talkative, a warm and considerate friend. It was an unlikely relationship, but their marriage worked and was ended only by his death almost half a century later.

The complete article

Graham Farmelo — IAS

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