15

Nov

2012

A Q&A with Steven Weinberg

 

With the publication of Lectures on Quantum Mechanics, we took the opportunity to interview its author, Professor Steven Weinberg, to find out more about his beginnings in Physics, his career, and his process for writing his latest book.

Steven Weinberg

Professor Steven Weinberg. Photo: Matt Valentine.

What sparked your initial interest in physics?

My initial interest in physics grew from two sources. One was a chemistry set, handed down from an older cousin. I learned that chemical substances are what they are because they are composed of atoms, and that to understand atoms you had to understand physics.

The other source was popular books on physics by distinguished scientists like George Gamow and James Jeans.

Did you experience any challenges or issues in the writing of the book?

The greatest problem in writing my book was that there already were a number of good books on quantum mechanics. I had to offer something new, both in the topics covered and, more important, in how I explained why quantum mechanics is the way it is.

How is this book different from your previous books?

My previous books have mostly either been on more advanced topics, like quantum field theory, or have been non-technical books for general readers. The only previous book of mine at a similar level was my first book, Gravitation and Cosmology (John Wiley & Sons, 1972).

Why do you feel the book is important?

Whatever importance my book has comes from the importance of quantum mechanics, which seems to be the universal framework for physical theory.

Who would benefit from reading the book?

The book is aimed at first year graduate students, but it could be read by bright undergraduates who concentrate in physics or mathematics. I think that parts would be useful even for working physicists.

What is the part of your work and research that you enjoy the most?

Like most theoretical physicists, what I enjoy most is working out theoretical ideas that turn out to work in the real world.

How do you think the field will change in the future?

I’m guessing that modern quantum mechanics will turn out to be a very good approximation to a more satisfactory theory.

 

Lectures on Quantum MechanicsSteven Weinberg is the author of Lectures on Quantum Mechanics (out now). He is a member of the Physics and Astronomy Departments at the University of Texas, Austin. His research has covered a broad range of topics in quantum field theory, elementary particle physics and cosmology and has been honored with numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize in Physics, the National Medal of Science and the Heinemann Prize in Mathematical Physics. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Britain’s Royal Society and other academies in the US and abroad. The American Philosophical Society awarded him the Benjamin Franklin medal, with a citation that said he is ‘considered by many to be the preeminent theoretical physicist alive in the world today’. Educated at Cornell University, the University of Copenhagen and Princeton University, he also holds honorary degrees from sixteen other universities. He taught at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University – where he was Higgins Professor of Physics – before moving to Texas in 1982.

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