Thursday, June 18, 2009

[Yasmin_discussions] artists and atoms: fission and fusion


re our discussion of how atomic fission and fusion are contextualised
in other cultures, i thought i would mention
the famous physicist Homi Jehangir Bhabha - i know of him because of
his work on cosmic rays ( he was the one that came up with the
name 'meson' for those atomic particles.

there is a quote on one of his web sites ( he died in 1966):

"I know quite clearly what I want out of my life. Life and my emotions
are the only things
I am conscious of. I love the consciousness of life and I want as
much of it as I can get.
But the span of one's life is limited. What comes after death no one
knows. Nor do I care. Since, therefore,
I cannot increase the content of life by increasing its duration, I
will increase it by increasing its intensity.
Art, music, poetry and everything else that consciousness I do have
this one purpose - increasing the
intensity of my consciousness of life".

atomic fission and fusion engaged the best minds of a generation= and in many
ways the indian scientific had the type of mixed scientific/cultural
eminence that
is often associated with some of the famous central european
physicists= for instance
the famos hungarian "martians" von karman, szilard, wegner, non
neumann and teller. There
is a great book on them by leonardo editor Istvan Hargittai called

he Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century

here is a blurb from amazon:

If science has the equivalent of a Bloomsbury group, it is the five
men born at the turn of the 20th century
in the same neighborhood in Budapest:
Theodore von Karman, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and
Edward Teller.
Through immigration from Hungary to Germany to the United States, they
remained friends and continued
to work together and influence each other throughout their lives. As
a result, their work was integral to some
of the most important scientific and political developments of the
20th century. They were an extraordinary
group of talents: Wigner won a Nobel Prize in theoretical physics
without ever having taken a formal
college-level physics course, Szilard was the first to see that a
chain reaction based on neutrons was
possible but left physics to try to restrict nuclear arms, von Neumann
could solve problems
in his head for which most people needed computers, von Karman became
the first director
of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, and Teller was the father of the
hydrogen bomb, whose name i
s now synonymous with the controversial "Star Wars" defense initiative
of the 1980s. Each was fiercely
opinionated and politically active, reactionaries against the fascism
and anti-Semitism with which they had grown up.


more on Bhabba:

He derived a correct expression for the probability of scattering
positrons by electrons, a process now known as Bhabha scattering. His
classic paper, jointly with W. Heitler, published in 1937 described
how primary cosmic rays from space interact with the upper atmosphere
to produce particles observed at the ground level. Bhabha and Heitler
explained the cosmic ray shower formation by the cascade production of
gamma rays and positive and negative electron pairs. 'In 1938 Bhabha
was the first to conclude that observations of the properties of such
particles would lead to the straightforward experimental verification
of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity'. Bhabha possessed sensitive
and trained artistic gifts of the highest order. The environment in
which he grew certainly helped him to develop all these fine
qualities. He loved music and dancing. He had considerable knowledge
of both Indian and western music.

He painted and sketched. He designed the settings of dramatic
productions. He was an architect of no mean ability. Bhabha was a
perfectionist. He was a true lover of trees and did everything under
his powers to protect them. In his tribute paid to Bhabha Lord
Redcliffe-Maud has aptly described the different facets of Bhabha's
personality: "Affectionate and sensitive, elegant and humorous,
dynamic and now dead. Homi was one of the very few people I have ever
known (Maynard Keynes was another) who enhance life whatever the
context of their living. In Homi's case this was because he was
fantastically talented but so fastidious about standards that he was
never a dilettante. Whatever he set himself to do, he did as a
professional- but one who worked for love. He was relentlessly
creative, enhancing life because he loved all forms of it. So he
became a living proof that scientific excellence can go with
excellence in arts and racial differences need be no bar to
friendship. When Indian Art was last exhibited in London, the one
picture chosen for reproduction on the poster outside Burlington House
was one of Homi's. He was as fond of music as he was of pictures,
contriving to fly in from India as the first Edinburgh Festival began
and, when the question of a late Beethoven quartet was raised in
conversation, knowing the opus number. At one UNESCO conference after
another he stood out even among the other distinguished members of the
Indian delegation, as a world citizen qualified in all three subjects
- education, science and culture - as hardly another member of the
conference was. He was in fact an obvious choice for the headship of
the Organization if he had felt inclined that way. Those qualified
must judge how grievous was his death for India and for science and
for civilization".
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