Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac


Patrick Ennis
Mrs. Carter
Research
Monday, December 9, 1996

"Physical Laws should have mathematical beauty." This statement was Dirac\'s
response to the question of his philosophy of physics, posed to him in Moscow in
1955. He wrote it on a blackboard that is still preserved today.[1]

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac (1902-1984), known as P. A. M. Dirac, was the
fifteenth Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. He shared the Nobel
Prize for Physics in 1933 with Erwin Schrodinger.[2] He is considered to be the
founder of quantum mechanics, providing the transition from quantum theory. The
Cambridge Philosophical Society awarded him the Hopkins Medal in 1930. He was
awarded the Royal Medal by the Royal Society of London in 1939 and the James
Scott Prize from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1952 the Max Plank Medal
came from the Association of German Physical Societies, as well as the Copley
Medal from the Royal Society. The Akademie der Wissenschaften in the German
Democratic Republic presented him with the Helmholtz Medal in 1964. In 1969 he
received the Oppenheimer Prize from the University of Miami. Lastly in 1973, he
received the Order of Merit.[3]

Dirac was well known for his almost anti--social behavior, but he was a
member of many scientific organizations throughout the world. Naturally, he was
a member of the Royal Society, but he was also a member of the Deutsche Akademie
der Naturforsher and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He was a foreign member
of Academie des Sciences Morales et Politiques and the Academie des Sciences,
the Accademia delle Scienze Torino and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei and
the National Academy of Science. He was an honorary member and fellow of the
Indian Academy of Science, the Chinese Physical Society, the Royal Irish Academy,
the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the National Institute of Sciences in India, the
American Physical Society, the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in India,
the Royal Danish Academy, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was a
corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences.[4] The world wide respect
he earned for his work was well deserved.

A prolific writer, Dirac published over two hundred works between 1924
and 1987, mainly papers in physics journals on topics relating to quantum
mechanics. His book Principles of Quantum Mechanics , published in 1930, was the
first textbook in the discipline and became the standard.[5] Some predictions
made by Dirac are still untested because his theoretical work was so far
reaching, but many other predictions have been verified, assuring him of a
special place in the history of physics.[6]

Dirac was three years old when Einstein published his famous papers on
relativity in 1905 and a year old when his predecessor Joseph Larmor began his
tenure as Lucasian professor. Physics had just begun its incredible
transformation of the twentieth century when Dirac arrived on the scene.

Dirac came to Cambridge as a graduate student in 1923 after graduating
from the University of Bristol. As a student in mathematics in St. John\'s
College, he took his Ph.D. in 1926 and was elected in 1927 as a fellow. His
appointment as university lecturer came in 1929.[7] He assumed the Lucasian
professorship following Joseph Larmor in 1932 and retired from it in 1969. Two
years later he accepted a position at Florida State University where he lived
out his remaining years. The FSU library now carries his name. [8]

While at Cambridge, Dirac did not accept many research students. Those
who worked with him generally thought he was a good supervisor, but one who did
not spend much time with his students. A student needed to be extremely
independent to work under Dirac.[9] One such student was Dennis Sciama, who
later became the supervisor of Stephen Hawking, the current holder of the
Lucasian Chair. Dirac\'s lectures were attended by Sir M. J. Lighthill while he
was a student at Cambridge and Lighthill was Dirac\'s successor to the Lucasian
Chair.

Dirac offered the first course in quantum mechanics in Britain, entitled Quantum
Theory (Recent Developments) . Among his students was J. R. Oppenheimer, an
American, who later on was in charge of the Manhattan Project, which created the
first atomic bomb.[10]

Dirac\'s work should be understood in the context of the development of
quantum physics. The theoretical work had been underway for several years before
his entry into the field. It was plagued with difficulties, in part because of
the radical change in the way one thought about the world around us, and in part
because it was a difficult problem. The important developments of the beginning
of this century were