Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview
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8
JOURNEYMAN
YEAR IN PHYSICS
1929-1930

JUST AFTER GRADUATION, Heisenberg offered me a postdoctoral research position as one of his assistants. Although that was unexpected and made me very happy, I was not without concerns. During the next few years, I worked among accomplished scientists who set an incredibly high standard. I worried whether my dream of becoming a professor was realistic.

At the beginning of the second semester, Heisenberg, who wanted his students to know the great scientists, encouraged us to make an excursion to Berlin to hear Einstein lecture. Einstein had set off his first revolution two and a half years before I was born; he initiated a second in the later part of the next decade. When I heard him speak, he was attempting a third. By exaggerating only slightly, one can say that having given a new description to time, and then having explained that God needed gravitation to create a closed world of three dimensions and time, Einstein next wanted to show that God had no choice but to create electricity and magnetism as well.

Sitting for the first and only time in a lecture room at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, I heard that the universe would be described in a general manner by assigning four quantities to each point in space and time. Einstein called the quantities four legs and explained that because the earlier theories of relativity and gravitation were overly simple, electromagnetism had been shortchanged. From that point on, his lecture passed over my head. 1

____________________
1
Twenty years later, when Einstein published his results on that topic, a reporter asked him whether his work was correct. His wise reply was: "Ask me again in another twenty years." When the twenty years had passed, the attempt at unifying all theories required more than four legs. Even today, unification remains out of reach.

-64-

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