24 October 2014

Treasures of modern physics

Last Saturday morning I dropped into Boobooks, Armidale's wonderful second-hand bookshop, and came away with two classics of modern physics: Louis de Broglie's Wave Mechanics (1930 - translated from the French original) and Paul Dirac's The Principles of Quantum Mechanics (3rd edition 1947, first published 1930). These two authors made fundamental contributions to their respective branches of physics, de Broglie winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1929, and Dirac sharing the prize with Erwin Schrödinger in 1933.

The flyleaf of de Broglie’s Wave Mechanics showed it to have been the property of “R.H. Healey B.Sc., Physics IV 1932”.

Imagine my delight on subsequently discovering on another flyleaf that it once belonged to my physics professor, J.M. (Jack) Somerville, who was also my first year tutor (those were the days!). Jack Somerville was one of the four original staff members of the New England University College, teaching the full University of Sydney Physics and Mathematics curriculum, and became the first Professor of Physics at UNE. Sadly, he died suddenly in 1964, while I was working as a research assistant in the Department, a great shock to the University community as a whole.

I already have a copy of a more modern text on quantum mechanics (David Beard’s Quantum Mechanics), sent to him by a publisher, which he gave to me in 1963, inviting me as he did so me to give him my opinion of it (which was highly favourable). I am very happy to have fortuitously acquired this additional link with such an admirable man.

On looking to see who R.H. Healey might be, I find that he was a student at Sydney University who shared with physicist, radio astronomer and school teacher Ruby Payne-Scott (1912-1981) the Deas Thomson and Walter Burfitt scholarships for physics.

As for Dirac’s Quantum Mechanics, that belonged to one N.W. Taylor. That will be Nathaniel Wesley Taylor, an outstanding mathematician who was one of the first two recipients of a University of New England Ph.D., at the Graduation Ceremony in 1958, and who was in the Mathematics Department when I was a student.

I think I will go back to Boobooks and see what other treasures I can find amongst the mathematics and physics texts.

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