The present talk by Max Born is certainly one of the most fascinating ones available in the Mediatheque of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. In its first quarter, Born tells the story of the publication of his second textbook on optics. A story, which extends over decades and involves the American Custodian of Alien Property, the US Navy, the Finnish Composer Jean Sibelius, industrial action by the British printers and one of Born’s employees going to prison for fraud, to name just a few curiosities. However, with the subtext to his amusing story, which is repeatedly interrupted by the audience’s laughter, Born also finds a way of accounting for the devastating impact of the Nazi Regime and World War II on German science.
Being of Jewish origin, Born was suspended from his position at the University of Göttingen and had to emigrate to Britain when the Nazi party came to power. Despite such difficulties, he prevailed and consolidated his role as one of the great physicists of the 20th century. Amongst Born’s students were Max Delbrück (1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine), Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963 Nobel Prize in Physics) and Robert Oppenheimer, to name just a few.
In 1954, Born himself received one of the Nobel Prizes in Physics - not for optics, as the title of his book might suggest, but for his contributions to the theory of quantum mechanics.After the story of his book on optics is told, Born goes on to pick out certain practical optical problems and explains them to the audience. As he makes extensive use of the blackboard, these explanations are not always easy to follow. However, the interested reader might be pleased to know that there is an easy fix for this problem. Maybe understandably - in view of its rich history - Born’s book on optics has developed into a standard textbook, which is still in print today and thus readily available for clarifying consultation (“Principles of optics”, ISBN-13: 978-0521642224).