Paul Dirac


Famous for his breakthroughs in quantum mechanics, Paul Dirac was a renowned physicist with a long history in mathematics. With his large understanding in math, he was one of the first people to explore the enigmatic subject of quantum mechanics, and he is the father of quantum electrodynamics. He wrote many influential books that brought about later discoveries and has quite a number of theories and formulas. Dirac's theory of the anti-matter of the electron was a factor in the creation of particle physics.[¹] In addition, Dirac's work founded new discoveries in chemistry, physics, and math that are still used to this day. His research and discoveries were the basis of many different inventions that occurred later as well. Furthering studies of other scientists, Dirac finalized many uncertain and murky areas in quantum mechanics. Many scientists look back and say he may be on of the greatest physicists of all time. Due to his great work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Erwin Schrödinger for further research in the atomic theory. Also, he won the Royal Medal, Copley Medal, and the Max Planck Medal for his discoveries. His legacy was so great that they award the Paul Dirac Medal annually to great scientists. In his personal life, he married Margit Wigner in 1937 and had two children, while adopting two others. He was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University in earlier years of his life. Also, many physicists stated that he was extremely humble and altruistic. Overall, without the contribution of Dirac, advancements in all areas of science, math, and technology would be substantially less.[²]

Insight and Influences


Paul Dirac was born on August 8, 1902 in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England. He was the son of an English mother, Florence, and a Swiss father, Charles. His father played an influential role in his shy and reserved attitude, because he had an extremely strict attitude. This attributed to the bad and unpleasant childhood he and his other siblings had. Though he was quite, when Dirac spoke his words carried a great magnitude of wisdom and knowledge. Since Dirac's father was a teacher, he noticed his son's early affinity towards math and science. At the early age of 12, Dirac was already attending secondary school, where his father taught. His great progress in math and science was attributed to him having a large amount of individual attention and study time, since World War I started. It was rather fortunate that Dirac was a younger student and did not have to fight in the war. After a few years, he completed his secondary school work and attended Bristol College as an electrical engineer major. Dirac was not highly interested in this subject,
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but his father forcefully made him study it. He earned his degree in 1921 and started working for only a little amount of time. This is because he found a real passion for math that the job could not fulfill. The passion was for the newly developed theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, that was newly discovered during this time period. If not for the new media technology, Dirac may have never heard of these developments.[³][]

Fortunately, he earned the opportunity to study relativity at Bristol and took the offer. After 1923, he went to Cambridge University for research and study of the quantum theory and relativity. While at the university, Dirac was put under the supervision of a statistician for quantum mechanics, Ralph Fowler. From there is where he had an in depth view into the field that he would become a legacy in. Soon, he wrote a paper that talked about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that earned his Ph.D. in 1926. After earning his doctorates, he met or studied with Niels Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer, Max Born, James Franck, and Igor Tamm. After his collaborations, Dirac and Pascual Jordan independently combined matrix and wave mechanics to create the transformation theory. This theory created the first mathematical equation for the nebulous field of quantum mechanics.[³][]

Paul Dirac was highly influenced to be a physicist because of the education, technology, political conditions, and parenting that he had when he was raised. For example, if Dirac's father did not notice his savvy for math so early, he would have never attended school at an early age. This would have altered his whole course in education, and he might not have been in the same situation when he was older. Also, since he was young during World War I, he experienced the scientific race for technology and the newly introduced mass media. The war caused there to be less competition for Dirac as well, and allowed him to be accepted into positions easier. The media played a crucial role in Dirac's choice of being a physicist, because if it were not for news, he would have never heard of the intriguing quantum mechanics. The media allowed him to explore physics and quantum mechanics deeply, and helped Dirac find his true passion in life. Most importantly, Dirac was young in the time where the study of physics and science was developing its most important discoveries and inventions. This allowed Dirac to grow up in a rich environment for science and his studies. Dirac was born to be a physicist because of his love for the subject. To prove this, he once famously said, "God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world."[]

Major Contributions


Like many, Paul Dirac was quite unfamiliar with quantum mechanics at first; however he soon discovered that he was destined to study this subject. Paul Dirac was the first physicist to create a mathematical formula to represent the quantum theory. The quantum theory and mechanics is the study and prediction of the subatomic world. It uses classical physics to make approximations about the behavior of subatomic particles. In general, it outlines the movement and patterns of particle's waves and orbital movement. The quantum physicists make predictions from these studies about the natural world. This formula was created on November 1925 and represented quantum motion. Advancing his work in the area, Dirac had a theory about quantum radiation. In 1927, he used his work to invent the second quantization of an electromagnetic wave. This resulted in Dirac publishing one of his best works about the electron. He created a relativistic wave equation for the electron. Later, in 1928, he created a formula that tied together quantum mechanics and relativity seamlessly to describe elementary particles. This breakthrough discovery combined four wave functions and a newly mathematically developed spinors. The equation was so profound that it was named the Dirac Equation. The formula could describe an electron's behavior from any speed until the speed of light. Also, Dirac's formula was able to vividly detail the spin of elementary particles, and the formula was able to calculate negative particle mass. From this Dirac was the first to state that there must be anti-matter to every elementary particle.[³][][][]

Later, his theory was proven valid, and he was the first ever physicist to propose that idea. Amazingly, he mathematically predicted the existence of something that had never been observed. The existence of the positron led to the discoveries of the anti-matter of many other subatomic particles. Dirac published the book The Principles of Quantum Mechanics in 1930 that created the modern terminology for quantum mechanic terms. Another aspect that makes Dirac such a tremendous physicist was his combination of Heisenberg's and Schrödinger's theory of quantum mechanics to create the transformation theory. Causing a deeper understanding in quantum mechanics, Dirac opened many more paths and viewpoints on the vague matter. Surprisingly, Dirac proved all of these equations and theories correct solely with mathematical representation. Later, Dirac stated his theory of vacuum polarization that led to the field of quantum electrodynamics. This field of quantum physics deals with the electromagnetic properties of electrically charged matter. This ranges within the limits of relativity and the quantum theory. It pertains to all sciences that use electromagnetism. In 1933, he stated that a single magnetic monopole was able to describe the quantization of electrical charges. He was one of the first to call this study of the quantum electrodynamics. Later, in 1937, Dirac created the "large number hypothesis" that was at first met with speculation, but later it was used in mainstream cosmologies.[³][][][][¹⁰]

During World War II, he worked on uranium and nuclear weapons for a short amount of time. After that stage, he slipped out of the main topics of physics to study less known areas, like the super string theory. During his lifetime, Dirac traveled around the world to give lectures and seminars about his findings. He was also a professor at Cambridge University. Also, in the last years of his life, he was the professor of physics at Florida State University, and he continued his research there as well. Without the theories, equations, and proposals of Dirac, the world of physics would not be where it is today. He took the work of other physicists and combined it with his own to perfect it. Also, Paul Dirac added another dimension of quantum mechanics with his discoveries. Dirac was always willing to share his knowledge with anyone so that they may improve the areas of quantum mechanics that Dirac was not satisfied with. The contributions of Dirac are one of the main reasons for modern understanding of physics and will always be remembered.[³][]

Affect and Effect


Paul Dirac was a man that was highly influenced by the people around him. For example, Paul Dirac's attitude and the way he lived was due to the way his father treated him as a child. His father was an extremely rigid and obdurate man that demanded perfection from his children. Eventually, the sorrow that his brother acquired from his torment resulted in his suicide. This, along with the death of his brother, influenced Dirac to be less social and enjoy solitude. This allowed Dirac to think about his theories and equations in peace. However, his father did not always have a negative impact on his son. Since his father was a teacher, he noticed his son's talent in the field of science and mathematics. As a result of this, Dirac's talents were quickly put to work and supervised by experienced teachers. If not for his father, his early talents might have gone to waste and not harnessed until it was to late. Also, one of Dirac's professors, Ralph Fowler, at Cambridge University facilitated his way into the understanding of quantum mechanics and helped him appreciate the subject. Also, many physicists and their theories caused Dirac to be interested in quantum mechanics. For example, after Albert Einstein visited his university to give a speech about relativity, Paul Dirac was instantly enamored with the subatomic world. Also, one of the first physicists to study the field of the quantum, Werner Heisenberg, compelled Dirac to the subject.[²][³][]

These two influential people in Dirac's life allowed him to write a paper that would earn him a Ph.D. The paper highlighted the aspects of the different quantum theories and combined them for a cohesive understanding of the erratic principles. In addition, the paper shed light on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and combined this theory with others. This combining of ideas and theories created an inundation of breakthrough physics. Fowler proofread Dirac's doctorate winning paper and let Dirac know the magnitude of his works and success. After Fowler's impact, Dirac was an extremely independent and talented physicist. Once he earned his Ph.D., he quickly was invited to work with the famous physicists Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Pascual Jordan, Robert Oppenheimer, James Franck, Igor Tamm, and Niels Bohr. Out of all of these people, Pascual Jordan worked the most with him. Together they developed the first mathematical representation of the quantum mechanics, the transformation theory. Outside the world of physics, Dirac's wife, Margit Wigner, was a kind of remedy to the physicists sorrow. Together they adopted two children and had two of their own. Having a wife and children caused Dirac to be less confined and shy, and helped him
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overcome his lamentable past.[²][³][]

Despite all of these people that helped him become one of the most famous physicists in history, Paul Dirac had more affect on the scientific world than any of these people had on him. For example, he used the work of many physicists to perfect quantum mechanics. Dirac cleared up many uncertain formulas and theories to allow physics to go into the next step. Also, without his theories, the world would not have the advanced technology we do today. Outrageously, he proved the existence of something that had never been observed before. Many later physicists used his work to help them with their ideas. The men that he used to admire would soon be using his ideas and equations for their research. Ultimately, Paul Dirac's copious amounts of knowledge and wisdom advanced the world in unlimited ways.[²][³][]

Legacy


Paul Dirac is known for his countless equations, formulas, theories, and discoveries in the physics world. However, he has two findings that surpass all the other ones. The first one is his proposal of anti-particles based on his mathematics. More specifically, he worked with the anti-particle of the electron. At first he doubted himself and so did the whole physics community, but Dirac knew that his mathematics could not lie. He did not use any visual representation in his ideas but only math. So, he proposed that there must be a particle that has the opposite charge of an electron but the same mass and spin. Soon, the skeptic physicists of the world were awed when a few years later Carl Anderson experimentally observed and captured this anti-particle. The particle was eventually named the positron. From Dirac's work soon came the findings of the anti-proton and anti-neutron. The discovery of anti-particles opened a new pathway in particle physics. With this knowledge, Dirac was able to explain the spin of elementary particles. In modern days, the most state of the art technology uses Dirac's positron at the Large Hadron Collider in countless tests, and so the positron could be used to explain the mysteries of the universe. Without Dirac's first proposal of anti-matter, the world would only know half of the particles that make up the universe, and this would make physicists know very little about our surroundings.[²][³][]
Image Courtesy of Tokyo-Cl
Image Courtesy of Tokyo-Cl


His second most famous discovery is the invention of the field of quantum electrodynamics. This subject pertains to the electromagnetic forces that interact with electrically charged particles. These subjects can be used to describe the magnetic moment of the muon, Lamb Shift of hydrogen energy levels, and many more electromagnetic phenomena. The manner that Dirac created this field is by first describing how photons appear in the quantization of electromagnetic radiation. He explained this by using the different wave structure of matter. Through this, he used harmonious oscillators in a discrete field and was proven right about his theories. Later,Richard Feynman added onto the works of Dirac and caused great understanding of the natural electromagnetic force. Without the invention of this field of physics, there would be little understanding of the atomic and subatomic world's electrical and magnetic interactions. This would result in the lack of almost every modern form of electronic devices and technology. Basically, there would be no televisions, cell phones, computers, and many more. This is ultimately why Paul Dirac is hailed as one of the best physicists to ever exist. Also, this invention's magnitude is why it is part of his legacy. In conclusion, Paul Dirac is one of the greatest minds to ever exist, and without his contributions, modern day life would be drastically different.[³][¹¹][¹²][¹³]




Legendary Physicist and Florida State Professor Paul Dirac

References


1. Nobel Prize Biography
2. Paul Dirac-The Biographicon
3. Paul Dirac Britannica Online Encyclopedia
4. Dirac Biography
5. Paul Dirac Quotes
6. Featured Physicist-Paul Dirac
7. The Physicist of the Universe
8. Famous Physicists and Astronomers
9. Pioneers in Electricity and Magnetism
10. Definitions from the Sci-Tech Encyclopedia
11. Quantum Electrodynamics
12. Quantum Physics
13. Paul Dirac Video
14. Picture from NNDB
15. Picture from Jackklaff
16. Picture from Tokyo-Cl