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Forced to Choose

et al., Roald Hoffmann


Institute for Advanced Studies astrophysicist and one of the world's foremost authorities on neutrinos

Two books have been most important in my scientific career. The first is well known; the second is not. After my first year of graduate study at Harvard, I spent much of the summer reading carefully P. A. M. Dirac's book on The Principles of Quantum Mechanics. It made thinking about quantum mechanical problems simple and natural for me, which was not always the reaction among students more than 40 years ago. In 1961, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University, and E. J. (Emil) Konopinski was giving a wonderful lecture course that became the basis of The Theory of Beta Radioactivity. I sat in on the course. I taught myself the subject by working out problems I made up. Several of these problems I published, and they are among my first research papers (for example, one on the experimental implications of the muon neutrino having a mass is quoted in Emil's book). Emil gave me copies of his lecture notes to comment on and make suggestions about for the book version. Willy Fowler was the referee for one of the papers I wrote on problems that I made up while learning this subject (beta-decay under the extreme conditions that occur in stars) and as a result invited me to Caltech to work as an astrophysicist. It changed my career.

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