Club News

March 22, 2017 – questions about quantum physics
arch 22, 2017 – Dr. Paul Halpern, professor of physics Dr. Paul Halpern, professor of physics at the University of the Sciences, is the author of 15 books explaining aspects of science to the educated public. He discussed his most recent book, Einstein’s Dice and Schroedinger’s Cat, a presentation of how two famous physicists continually resisted the basic outlook of quantum physics, that is, the notion of randomness built into the physical world (atomic and sub-atomic). Dr. Halpern merged comments on the personalities and family lives of these two famous physicists with their professional refusal to accept what has now become the main line of theoretical physics. The title of his book refers to Einstein’s famous comment that “God does not throw dice,” meaning that there is no randomness in the way that subatomic particles act. He felt that with sufficient observation and experimentation one would be able to clarify what is seen as indeterminacy. Unlike most mathematicians and theoreticians, Einstein did not move into administrative work as he entered middle age. Until he died in 1955, he continued to engage in research from his post at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He had received the appointment in the 1930s as a refugee from Nazi Germany. Erwin Schroedinger is best known for his equation summarizing quantum data. He was also a womanizer, traveling with his wife and mistress, and a man who made a number of mistakes in choosing his professional career. In the 1930s he became a professor in Austria, mistakenly thinking he could escape a totalitarian regime (Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938). Later he was able to become the lead physicist at the Dublin, Ireland, institute for advanced study. Schroedinger’s cat refers to a thought experiment in which a cat is put in a black box with potential radiation that would kill the cat. Since one would not know what was going on in the box until the box was opened, the cat was said to be both dead and alive at the same time. The point of this exercise was to show the absurdity of the randomness inherent in quantum physics. The two men were quite friendly, exchanging many letters over a number of years. However, in the late 1940s, Schroedinger in a bid for fame claimed that he had outdone Einstein. Mutual claims of plagiarism provided a sad episode in the careers of these two distinguished physicists, though later they were somewhat reconciled.