The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics


  • D. Aaron Roberts

    1. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Research Associate at National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
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Probably the most remarkable aspect of 20th century physics is that it has made possible the rational investigation of the ultimate structure of matter and the origin of the universe. When a number of prominent physicists before the turn of the century thought that fundamental physics was essentially over, their conception of the scope of the field hardly included the structure of ordinary matter, much less the exotic forms dealt with routinely today. The often halting progress through this century in understanding the nature of matter was punctuated by three periods of synthesis. The first of these produced the quantum mechanical theory of atomic structure, the second successfully merged this theory with special relativity to form quantum electrodynamics, and the third resulted in the “standard” gage quantum field theory of elementary particles.