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Dynamic Dirac: Perhaps The Greatest Physicist Of The Twentieth Century

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Author: Kavya Pullanoor

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac (8 August 1902 – 20 October 1984) was an English theoretical physicist who is widely considered as one of the twentieth century's most influential physicists. He is known for his contributions to quantum physics and quantum electrodynamics. He had formulated the Dirac Equation and also predicted the existence of antimatter.

On August 8, 1902, Paul Dirac was born to a Swiss father and an English mother in Bristol, England. Charles Adrien Ladislas Dirac was his father, and Florence Hannah Holten was his mother. Paul was one of three children, with Reginald Charles Felix Dirac as his older brother and Beatrice Isabelle Marguerite Walla Dirac as his younger sister. Paul grew up in a pretty strict family.

He had received his education from Merchant Venturer’s Secondary School, Bristol, and then went on to Bristol University. Dirac was an electrical engineering student at Bristol University and then an applied mathematics student. He received his Bachelor’s degree in 1921. He was awarded a scholarship to study mathematics at St John's College, Cambridge, after passing the Cambridge scholarship examinations in June 1921, but it was insufficient to support him. His local education authorities should have provided more assistance, but he was denied it since his father had not been a British citizen for long enough. Dirac then moved to St. John’s College, Cambridge, to research mathematics. In 1926, he was awarded his Ph.D. He had eleven publications published before submitting his doctoral thesis, which is extraordinary. He was also elected a Fellow of St. John's College the following year, and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge in 1932.

Dirac developed a noncommutative algebra for calculating atomic properties, and published a series of papers on the subject, mostly in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, leading to his relativistic theory of the electron (1928) and theory of holes (1930). The presence of a positive particle with the same mass and charge as the known (negative) electron was necessary for this theory. The positron was found experimentally by C. D. Anderson in 1932, and its existence was also proven in the phenomena of "pair creation" and "annihilation" by Blackett and Occhialini in 1933. Dirac's work is most notable for his renowned wave equation, which included special relativity into Schrödinger's equation. Given that relativity theory and quantum theory are not only mathematically separate from one another, but also oppose one another, Dirac's work may be considered a constructive reconciliation of the two theories.

In 1930 Dirac published The Principles of Quantum Mechanics He also received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933, with Erwin Schrodinger. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1930. This honor was bestowed upon him on the first occasion that his name was proposed, which is an exceptional occurrence that speaks volumes about Dirac's peers' great regard for him.

Although Dirac made significant contributions to physics, it is vital to remember that he was always driven by mathematical aesthetic ideals. Dirac died on October 20, 1984, robbing the physics community of one of its most beautiful gems.

Dirac once said:-

I was taught at school never to start a sentence without knowing the end of it.

This may explain much about his beautifully written sentences in his books and papers.

Remembering Sir Dirac on his 119th birthday.


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