Paul Dirac

Physicist

Paul Dirac studied Electrical Engineering at B...
Paul Dirac studied Electrical Engineering at Bristol. He later won a Nobel Prize for Physics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Are Us’ Fact: There’s a unit of measurement called ‘The Dirac’ . One Dirac = One word spoken per day, in reference to the fact that Paul Dirac was so taciturn and shy! (Thanks to georgsaliba for his comment.)

Favorite Quote: “Pick a flower on Earth and you move the farthest star.”

Born in Bristol, England in 1902, Dirac came into physics at an important time. Einstein  finished his paper on Special Relativity (The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies) in 1905 and later published his paper on General Relativity (Geometric Theory of Gravity) in 1916. During this development in physics, something interesting arose. Quantum Field Theory was underway in the 20’s, something in which Dirac played a huge role.

Studying electrical engineering at the University of Bristol, he completed his degree in 1921 then returning once more to study mathematics free of charge. While he was there, Dirac began his passion for general relativity under the supervision of Ralph Fowler.

Paul Dirac began the most general theory of quantum mechanics which was introduced to him by Werner Heisenberg in 1925. In 1926, Dirac received his doctorate degree from Cambridge, the title of his thesis “Quantum Mechanics” was praised and now sits, handwritten, at Dirac’s Science Library, Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. Thanks to his research advisor, Ralph Fowler was able to get the paper for Dirac to carefully look over. Establishing this theory, Dirac discovered the relativistic equation for the electron currently named after himself (Dirac Equation)  in 1928.

P.A.M. Dirac at the blackboard
P.A.M. Dirac at the blackboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He thought of the positron; the antiparticle to the  electron, which also derive from his equations. Being the first to fully develop the quantum field theory, his work is the foundation for all elementary particles, this helps us understand the fundamental forces of nature. Without this theory, enormous projects like the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN in Geneva, Switzerland would not have happened. Dirac also suggested the concept of a magnetic monopole (a hypothetical particle that is an isolated magnet with only one magnetic pole). With this suggestion, it would bring great symmetry to Maxwell’s equations on the force of nature known as electromagnetism.

One of his most important works relies on his wave equation, this equations introduced special relativity to Erwin Schrodinger’s wave equation. Schrodinger and Dirac shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics for  the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory. One year prior going to Werner Heisenberg, for his creation of quantum mechanics. Dirac also attempted to glue quantum mechanics and general relativity, a problem that still persists today.

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Later in his life, Dirac became a professor, beginning his career at the University of Cambridge as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Afterwards, he moved to the United States and became a member for the center of theoretical study at the University of Miami in Florida. He spent the last decade of his life in Tallahassee, Florida teaching at Florida State University. Thanks to his contribution at FSU, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory was erected in 1994. A statue stands outside the Dirac Science Library commemorating his achievement in the fields of physics.

Sources: 

“Paul A.M. Dirac – Biography”. Nobelprize.org. 7 Jun 2013 http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1933/dirac-bio.html

Dirac, Paul Adrien Maurice. “The principles of quantum mechanics.” The International Series of Monographs on Physics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 19471 (1947).

Dirac, Paul AM. “The quantum theory of the electron.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Containing Papers of a Mathematical and Physical Character 117.778 (1928): 610-624.

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7 thoughts on “Paul Dirac

  1. This is a very good article here as I know very little about Scientists view on Quantum Physics and will read as much as I can here…Thanks again…

  2. Nice post! Did you know that there’s a unit of measurement called ‘The Dirac’ ? 1 dirac = 1 word spoken per day, in reference to the fact that Paul Dirac was so taciturn and shy!

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