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Dirac

Paul A. M. Dirac

1902-1984

Richard Kaye

ELEC 424-81

Spring 03

04 March 2003

Kaye

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac was born August 8, 1902 at 15 Monk Road

Bishopston, a suburb of Bristol, England. His parents were Charles Adrien Ladislas Dirac

and Florence Hannah, who were married in Kingdown, another suburb of Bristol. Paul

had an older brother named Reginald Charles Felix, and a younger sister named Beatrice

Isabelle Marguerite. All three children of Charles Dirac were registered as Swiss citizens

of the commune of St Maurice in the canton of Valais (Taylor, 3).

Pauls father, Charles, was a very distant man to his children. He remained

isolated from his family in Switzerland and they were not informed of his first children or

marriage. Charles was a cold, social tyrant who kept his children in a virtual antisocial

prison. He despised any social contacts and enforced that behavior upon his children.

Paul Dirac was quoted in a 1962 interview saying, In those days I didnt speak to

anybody unless I was spoken to. I was very much an introvert, and I spent my time

thinking about problems in nature. This lack of social contact with Paul and his siblings

had a profound effect on his character throughout his entire life (Kragh, 2). Paul was

completely separated from the outside world and was forced to grow up in a world

lacking culture and social stimulation.

Through the earlier years of Pauls life, he remained shy with other boys and

absolutely terrified of girls. He continued with this behavioral pattern even when he

moved out of the house to live at Cambridge University in 1923. He avoided all sports,

and when he attempted them, he had little to brag about. He spent most of his time alone

in the library, where he concentrated on mathematics and physics with a religious fever

instead of socializing. His fathers influence could only be compensated for in this

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manner. Paul displays how socially isolated his life was when he said, I never saw a

women naked, either in childhood or youthThe first time I saw a women naked was in

1927, when I went to Russia with Peter Kapitza. She was a child, an adolescent. I was

taken to a girl's swimming pool, and they bathed without swimming suits. I thought they

looked nice (Kragh, 3). This lack of social stimulation unconsciously drove him to focus

on engineering and mathematics.

Pauls first Engineering education was in 1918 at the Engineering College of

Bristol University, where he studied electrical engineering. He did not really want to

become an engineer, but it seemed to be the most natural and smooth career. He

discovered that he really enjoyed the mathematics in the engineering courses. From 19211923, Dirac studied applied mathematics under several teachers from Cambridge. The

teachers noticed his abilities and recommended that he continue his education at

Cambridge. He completed his work at Bristol with excellent results and received a grant

from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). This enabled him to

attend Cambridge in the fall of 1923. He could have attended in 1921, but his father

would not pay for it. Thanks to (DSIR), he could pursue his true interests in mathematics

(Kragh, 8).

Within a short period of time, Dirac transformed himself from a student to a

scientist. Just after 6 months at Cambridge, he submitted his first scientific paper that

dealt with statistical mechanics suggested by his supervisor, Fowler. This was his debut

paper that was an exercise like most debut papers. It was then that he decided to become

a research physicist. He published seven papers within two years and established a name

for himself in the local physics community. His early works appeared in most recognized

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British journals. His approach in the papers was to criticize a known result based on

established theories in order to better understand it. The ideas were laid out in Dirac's

doctoral thesis, Quantum mechanics, for which he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1926. He also

became Fellow of St. Johns College a year later after he moved to the University of

Gottingen in 1927, where he interacted with fellow students J.R. Oppenheimer, M Born, J

Frank and I Tamm. Dirac felt that it was not enough just to be published locally. He felt a

deeper calling to conjure original ideas in which his first seven publications laid the

groundwork for in his mathematical and theoretical aspects of quantum mechanics. While

in Gottingen, he published two papers that established the subject of quantum

electrodynamics. This theory remains as the most successful theory in the domain of

particle physics today, the model on which all other quantum field theories have been

patterned to (Taylor 8).

Some familiar concepts bearing Dirac's name are the Dirac Delta function and the

Fermi-Dirac statistics. The Dirac Delta function is a purely mathematical structure

representing a value of zero at every location on the Cartesian plane except at the origin,

but infinite at the origin. Its integrated value is finite, that is, having the value of one.

Dirac initially employed the function in 1927 in a paper demonstrating that the quantum

mechanics of Werner Heisenberg and the wave mechanics of Erwin Schrdinger, which

were two different ways of expressing the behavior of atomic particles and were

equivalent to each other (Scribner 3).

From an early age, Dirac was fascinated with the theory of relativity and by the

end of 1927, he had finally thought of his celebrated relativistic theory of the electron.

This original concept was a big breakthrough that came in 1928, when Dirac combined

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the theories of quantum mechanics and special relativity. The resulting Dirac equation

below (Equation 1), still used today, was able to explain the mysterious magnetic and

"spin" properties of the electron. This was a major landmark in the history of science.

Equation 1

W + eV

e

p + A mc = 0

c

c

The m and W are the electrons mass and total energy respectively, p = ih is the

momentum operator, and are four 4 x 4 matrices which satisfy

i = = 1

i j + j i = 2 ij

2

i + i = 0

With these relationships, the movement of an electron in an atom could be described and

calculated. He was finally able to incorporate relativity into his equations, which was his

most outstanding achievement in fundamental physics. The relationship is as follows:

Equation 2

eh

ieh

H +

E

2mc

2mc

It was immediately realized that it required the electron to have spin h/2, which appeared

mysterious and became seen as a consequence of special relativity (Taylor 9). The next

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year, Dirac found the four-component wave equation for the electron, which was based

on Schrodingers wave equation. In 1930, Dirac published the first edition of his classic

book, Principles of Quantum Mechanics, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

The book is now in its fourth edition and has been reprinted many times. In 1931, Dirac

used his equation to predict the existence of a particle with the same mass as the electron,

but with positive rather than negative charge. This "anti-particle", now called a positron,

was detected in 1932 and all particles are now known to have anti-particles. Dirac

continued to publish important papers on the quantum theory of fields and gravity

throughout his career (Rogers, 7).

In 1933, when advised that he won the Nobel Prize with Erwin Schrdinger,

Dirac's initial reaction was to decline the award because of his dislike of publicity.

However, when Ernest Rutherford, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1908, told

Dirac that refusing the prize would guarantee more publicity than its acceptance, Dirac

reluctantly agreed to the award (Scribner, 5). In his Nobel Prize lecture, Dirac postulated

the existence of a negative proton or antiproton. High-energy particle accelerators now

regularly generate antiprotons, antineutrons, and antimesons. The collision of a

conventional particle and its antiparticle results in annihilation of both, with the release of

electromagnetic energy in the form of photons. Dirac's equation opened the entire field of

antimatter physics. He was awarded the Royal Society's Royal Medal in 1939 and the

Society awarded him their Copley Medal in 1952 (Notable 4).

In addition to quantum mechanics and its later-related advanced formulation,

characterized as quantum electrodynamics, Dirac took a deep interest in cosmology and,

in particular, the role of gravitation in the evolution of the universe. His interest in

Kaye

cosmology continued to the end of his life. Dirac traveled widely and was visiting

professor at a number of universities in the United States, including Michigan,

Wisconsin, Princeton, and Miami. In 1969, Dirac retired from his post at Cambridge and

moved to the United States. He stayed briefly at the Center for Theoretical Studies of the

University of Miami before accepting an appointment as professor of physics at Florida

State University in Tallahassee in 1972. He continued to travel, write, and speak during

the next decade. After 1982, however, his health began to deteriorate and he died in

Tallahassee on October 20, 1984 (O'Connor, 4).

From 1932 to 1969, he held what is probably the most prestigious university

appointment in science in the world, the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge,

which is now held by Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking gave an address on November

13, 1995, when a plaque was dedicated in Westminster Abbey (rest place of Sir Isaac

Newton) commemorating Paul Dirac. The austere beauty of the plaques design

reflected in some ways the qualities of Diracs unique intellect (Taylor, ix). His name is

well known and his principles are still in practice today throughout the studies of

electrical engineering and physics worldwide.

Kaye

Bibliography

"Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac."The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 1:

1981-1985. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.

Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group.

2003. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC

O'Connor, JJ and E F Robertson, http://www-gap.dcs.stand.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Dirac.html

Taylor, J.G., Tributes to Paul Dirac , 1987

Kragh, Helge, 1944. Dirac: a scientific biography. Cambridge [England]; New York:

Cambridge University Press, 1990.

"Paul Dirac." Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present. Gale Group, 2001.

Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group.

2003. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC

Rodgers, Peter, editor of Physics World, The Institute of Physics,

http://www.iop.org/diracbio.html

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