Particle Physics in the 20th Century

Winter 2001 class taught by Nina Byers at the University of California, Los Angeles


Course Description (back to top)

This course will take the student on a journey of discovery.   It is a seminar in which we will read and discuss some original papers in which great discoveries were first reported. It will begin with the discoveries of the electron and the photon. Then we will examine the discovery of the nucleus (1912) and then, after WWI, the neutron (1932). Intermediate between these two landmarks was the discovery of the neutrino (1929). Nuclear fission was discovered in 1939 and then WWII intervened. After the WWII, muons and pions were observed and a proliferation of subnuclear particles that lead to the discovery (by theorists) of quarks. The course is about the foundations of physics in the 20th century when elementary particle physics was at the frontier of progress.

The course is a joint upper division and graduate seminar. Undergraduate students will be expected to read, question and discuss the papers; graduate students will give presentations on the papers. Undergraduates will bring questions to class and turn in weekly problem sets.   Graduate students may,   in place of turning in weekly problem sets,   write and present in class a detailed report on one of the original papers. There will be no exams.


Readings (back to top)
  1. Atoms as sources of radioactivity: M. Sklodowska Curie, Comptes Rendus 126, 1101 (1898), and A. Pais, "Inward Bound".
  2. The discovery of the electron: J.J. Thomson, Phil. Mag. 48: 547 (1899), and a section from his book "Personal Recollections and Reflections" (1936) in Course Reader.
  3. The discovery of the photon (Max Planck's account of his solution of the black body radiation problem): section from M. Planck's "Scientific Autobiography" (in Course Reader).
  4. The discovery of the atomic nucleus and the strong nuclear force: E. Rutherford, The London, Edinburgh and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 6th series, 21: 669 (1911); ibid., 37: 581 (1919).
  5. The discovery of the neutrino and weak interactions: A. Pais, "Inward Bound" and a paper of E. Fermi (included in Course Reader).
  6. The discovery of the neutron: J. Chadwick, Proc. Roy. Soc. (London) A136: 692 (1933).
  7. The discovery of nuclear fission: papers of L. Meitner and O. Frisch, and section from Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (in the Course Reader).
  8. The prediction and discovery of pions and muons: H. Yukawa, Proceedings of the Physico-Mathematical Society of Japan(3), 17: 48 (1935) and A. Pais, "Inward Bound".
  9. Particle physics,the discovery of quarks, and The Standard Model: Robert Cahn and Gerson Goldhaber, "The Experimental Foundations of Particle Physics."

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