Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brilliant Lectures on the History of 20th Century Physics

My Ph.D. thesis advisor (back in the 1980s!) was Max Dresden, whose career as a theoretical physicist spanned both many decades and many countries. Max was born in Amsterdam in 1918, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1946. During his long career (he passed away in 1997), he made made important contributions in statistical mechanics, superconductivity, quantum field theory and elementary particle physics. Another of his empassioned interests was the history and sociology of modern science. Though all of his lectures, technical and otherwise, were always a delight to listen to and behold (he was quite a showman!), it was his lectures on the history of physics that were something truly special, and his unique gifts as expositor shown brightly. Aside from his ebullient, infectiously joyful, style of presentation, his lectures were infused with personal knowledge of some of the greastest physicists of the 1920s and 1930s.

Here is an incredible collection of videos of some of Max's lectures on the history of physics (delivered between 1990 and 1996 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center). One would be hard pressed to find better examples of love and intimate knowledge of subject matter, and simple unabashed joy at sharing it with anyone willing to listen!

During his life, Max published articles in over 35 scientific journals and was the author of a well received biography of physicist H.A. Kramers, titled Between Tradition and Revolution. As all of us who were graced by this gentle soul know well, Max was a profoundly gifted and inspiring teacher. He is intensely missed.

Here is an article, In Appreciation: Remembering Max Dresden, by Peter B. Kahn, that appeared the May 2003 issue of Physics in Perspective. Max's obituary, as it appeared in Physics Today in June 1998 appears on this page (from the State University of New York, Stony Brook).

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