Person: Dirac, Paul Adrien Maurice
Paul Dirac is famous as the creator of the complete theoretical formulation of quantum mechanics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- The first school which Paul attended was Bishop Primary school and already in this school his exceptional ability in mathematics became clear to his teachers.
- By this time the University had combined with the Merchant Venturers Technical College so Dirac remained in the same building as he had studied during his four years at secondary school.
- Dirac was offered the chance to study mathematics at Bristol without paying fees and he did so being awarded first class honours in 1923.
- Dirac had been hoping to have his research supervised by Ebenezer Cunningham, for by this time Dirac had become fascinated in the general theory of relativity and wanted to undertake research on this topic.
- Cunningham already had as many research students as he was prepared to take on and so Dirac was supervised by Ralph Fowler.
- He recognised in Dirac a student of unusual ability.
- Under his influence Dirac worked on some problems in statistical mechanics.
- No doubt Fowler aroused his interest in the quantum theory, and in May 1924 Dirac completed his first paper dealing with quantum problems.
- Despite the obvious academic success Dirac enjoyed as a research student this was no easy time for him.
- This was as a result of Dirac being given proofs of a paper by Heisenberg to read in the summer of 1925.
- The significance of the algebraic properties of Heisenberg's commutators struck Dirac when he was out for a walk in the country.
- The ideas were laid out in Dirac's doctoral thesis Quantum mechanics for which he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1926.
- It is remarkable that Dirac had eleven papers in print before submitting his doctoral dissertation.
- Dirac visited the Soviet Union in 1928.
- Also in 1928 he found a connection between relativity and quantum mechanics, his famous spin-1/2 Dirac equation.
- In 1930 Dirac published The principles of Quantum Mechanics and for this work he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933.
- This has given Dirac's book ...
- reflects Dirac's very characteristic approach: abstract but simple, always selecting the important points and arguing with unbeatable logic.
- Also in 1930 Dirac was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
- This honour came on the first occasion that his name was put forward, in itself quite an unusual event which says much about the extremely high opinion that Dirac's fellow scientists had of him.
- Dirac was appointed Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge in 1932, a post he held for 37 years.
- In the same year Dirac received the Nobel prize for physics which he shared with Schrödinger.
- It is an interesting comment on Dirac's nature that his first thought was to turn down the prize on the grounds that he hated publicity.
- The academic year 1934-35 was important for Dirac both for personal and professional reasons.
- This chance meeting led, in January 1937, to Dirac marrying Margit in London.
- This association led to Dirac being prevented by the British government from visiting the Soviet Union after the end of the war; he was not able to visit again until 1957.
- We noted above that Dirac was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1930.
- Then, in 1971, Dirac was appointed professor of physics at Florida State University where he continued his research.
- In 1973 and 1975 Dirac lectured in the Physical Engineering Institute in Leningrad.
- Although Dirac made vastly important contributions to physics, it is important to realise that he was always motivated by principles of mathematical beauty.
- Dirac unified the theories of quantum mechanics and relativity theory, but he also is remembered for his outstanding work on the magnetic monopole, fundamental length, antimatter, the d-function, bra-kets, etc.
- There is a standard folklore of Dirac stories, mostly revolving around Dirac saying exactly what he meant and no more.
- Once when someone, making polite conversation at dinner, commented that it was windy, Dirac left the table and went to the door, looked out, returned to the table and replied that indeed it was windy.
- Certainly when Chandrasekhar was explaining his ideas to Dirac he continually interjected "yes" then explained to Chandrasekhar that "yes" did not mean that he agreed with what he was saying, only that he wished him to continue.
- Dirac received many honours for his work, some of which we have mentioned above.
- A memorial meeting was held at the University of Cambridge on 19 April 1985 and the papers presented at this meeting were published in Tributes to Paul Dirac, Cambridge, 1985 (Bristol, 1987).
- we vividly see everywhere the brilliant imprints of Dirac, unifier of quantum mechanics and relativity theory.
- In November 1995 of a plaque was unveiled in Westminster Abbey commemorating Paul Dirac.
- The memorial address was presented by Stephen Hawking who was Dirac's successor in the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge which was also Newton's chair.
Born 8 August 1902, Bristol, England. Died 20 October 1984, Tallahassee, Florida, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin England, Prize Nobel, Physics
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive