Hideki Yukawa (1953) - Attempt at a Unified Theory of Elementary Particles

Hideki Yukawa (1953)

Attempt at a Unified Theory of Elementary Particles

Hideki Yukawa (1953)

Attempt at a Unified Theory of Elementary Particles

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The first Lindau meeting dedicated to physics was held in 1953. This was a time when one of the main problems in physics was the large number of elementary particles detected in cosmic rays and in high-energy accelerators. Hideki Yukawa, in his first lecture at Lindau, addressed precisely this question, as did also Werner Heisenberg and Cecil Powell in theirs. Yukawa had, as the first Japanese Nobel Laureate, received his Nobel Prize in Physics for the theoretical prediction of a new particle, the meson, active in keeping the protons and the neutrons of the atomic nucleus together by acting as a messenger for the strong nuclear force. The prediction was made in 1935, but the meson was not discovered experimentally until Cecil Powell sent up cosmic ray particle detectors in the form of photographic plates in balloons in the late 1940’s. In 1947 Powell detected the meson, thereby confirming Yukawa’s prediction and opening up for their two Nobel Prizes, Yukawa’s in 1949 and Powell’s in 1950. But the problem was that, as Yukawa phrased it in his lecture, “Powell discovered a great number of extra particles which I did not need”. Today we have the Standard Model of particles and forces, through which all the “extra” particles can be classified and all the forces computed. But we still miss what Yukawa was looking for in his attempt to formulate a unified theory of elementary particles, an explanation of the masses of the particles! This recording of his long lecture is only a fragment, but as such gives a nice introduction to the problem. It also happens to act as a time machine in that there is a few words in German at the beginning, stating what lecture is recorded and when, and at the end there are again some comments in German about the formalized discussion of certain lectures. It can be mentioned, that Yukawa’s full written lecture can be found in a special publication of the journal Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau from 1981. The printed version contains a number of rather complicated equations that were not shown during his lecture in Lindau. Seeing them, one realizes that at the beginning, the Lindau meetings were not really meant for students and young researches, but rather for professional scientists, even though a small number of top students did attend the 1953 meeting. It was not until the 1954 meeting (medicine) that a serious attempt was made to invite also the young people, that today dominate the meetings.

Anders Bárány

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