Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Plural or Singular

Wolfgang Pauli postulated his hypothesis of the existence of the neutrino in his letter to a gathering on radioactivity in Tübingen in 1930. The letter begins by the words, "Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen" [1, 2]. Sin'itiro Tomonaga [3] quotes this letter and says, "By the way, radioactive lady apparently refers to Lise Meitner."

Pauli used the plural form, "radioactive ladies." Therefore, referring to these words in the singular form is inconsistent. Meitner was surely the key person who had found the experimental result that had led to Pauli's hypothesis. Was not there, however, other ladies, for example, Marie Curie, at the gathering? Even if he had had a firm proof that Meitner had been the single lady present, Tomonaga should have said, "By the way, radioactive ladies actually meant Lise Meitner."

By the way, I once started my presentation at an academic meeting by the words, "Good afternoon, a lady and gentlemen!" I wrote about that in "The Stolen Joke" [4]. Interestingly, the neutrino appears also in that story, though I have been forgetting about this fact.

  1. A. Pais, Inward Bound (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1986) p. 315.
  2. K. Riesselmann, Logbook: Neutrino invention.
  3. S. Tomonaga, The Story of Spin, translated by T. Oka (Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997) p. 219.
  4. The Stolen Joke IDEA-ISAAC Web site (August 18, 1999).

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Sense of Humor

In the book-review column of a British newspaper, the American physicist Richard Feynman was mentioned as British [1]. I read about this in an article, which was written by Hamish Johnston and posted at the blog site of physicsworld.com [2]. If I had found this erroneous description about Feynman, I would simply have thought it a stupid error. However, Johnston starts his article by the sentence, "One of the things that makes the British great is their love of eccentricity," and writes, "[Feynman] was famously eccentric so I can understand why a Brit reading about his antics would assume Feynman is British." This is a really good sense of humor shown by the British person.
  1. Helen Brown, "Atomic: the First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939-49 by Jim Baggott: review" Daily Telegraph (April 16, 2009).
  2. Hamish Johnston, "Surely you’re joking?" physicsworld.com Blog (April 22, 2009).

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Some theorists in the field of particle physics are studying the theory of supersymmetry (often abbreviated SUSY). In this theory, a superpartner particle is proposed to exist to be paired with each particle already known to exist (the Standard Model particle). Boson-type superpartners (with integer spins) corresponding to the Standard Model particles of fermion type (with half integer spins) are named by attaching "s" to the beginning of the names of the latter. For example, the superpartner of the electron is called selectron, the superpartner of the quark is called squark, and so on.

Last month I attended the lecture given by the particle theorist, Professor Tsuneo Uematsu of Kyoto University at the regular meeting of Science Cafe Kyoto. Uematsu wrote those names of particles and their superpertners on the whiteboard. Then he wrote his name "uematsu" as though it were the name of one of the Standard Model particles, and added the name of its superpartner "suematsu." Suematsu is a possible last name of the Japanese. Uematsu said, "I was surprised actually to see the particle theorist Dr. Suematsu at Kanazawa University." I liked this part of Uematsu's lecture most.