Skip to main content

Physics, Movies, and the Columbia and MIT Radar Labs

In the comments to yesterday's post on the Lamb shift[1][2], +Bruce Elliott and I were discussing how physics history could make for great movie ideas .  This morning, it occurred to me that several of the journal articles I've read recently share a common theme, the goings on in and around the MIT and Columbia radiation, (radar), labs circa World War II. The whole thing might make a great intertwined stories movie.  So, without further ado, here's a brief summary of a few of the players, final exams are coming up, so I'll spread this out a bit over the next few weeks.

Schwinger (picture 1), Feynman,and Tomonaga are three of the biggest names in quantum electrodynamics, (QED).  In addition to his QED work, Schwinger was apparently a pivotal figure at the MIT radiation laboratory where he did theoretical work on radar.  The Swinger-Lippmann scattering theory[3], a sort of framework for building other scattering theories came out of waveguide work done by Schwinger and Lippmann as well as others during the war.  He figures heavily in the MIT Radiation Laboratory Series volume on waveguides.  He was of course present at the famous Shelter Island conference.  He's also acknowledged by Israel Senitzky for 'helpful discussions' regarding coherent state work that Senitzky was doing.

Israel Senitzky[7]
The most prominent mentions I've found for Senitzky are found in Signal Corp and Radiation Laboratory history books which refer to him mostly as an administrator that served as the liaison to  the Columbia Radiation Laboratory program for the Army.  In the scientific literature however, he turns up as a maser scientist.  He worked on coherent states before coherent states were cool[6].  In addition to being a physicist, Israel Senitzky was a childhood violin virtuoso[4].  His daughter went on to be an MD who pioneered testosterone treatments in the 1980s and was written up in People Magazine[5].

David Tressel Griggs[8]
Griggs would be the Indiana Jones/Tony Stark character of the movie.  He turns up at the MIT radiation laboratory as the test pilot for their aircraft detection radar projects.  He later went on to be a combat adviser during World War II flying on missions that utilized the radar systems he helped to develop.  He almost fell from a the plane when he kicked open a stuck bomb bay door during a bombing run.  After that he was grounded as the military brass felt he was far more valuable as a scientist than as a bomb.

A few years later Griggs turns up as the chief scientist for the Air Force.  He was instrumental in convincing Teller to run Lawrence Livermore laboratory where he and Teller both influenced underground nuclear bomb testing.  He was also friends with Agnew Bahnson Jr. who will turn up in a later post about the very cool sci-fi/history movie that could come out of the very real 1950's race for anti-gravity, (spoiler: nobody won the race as far as I know).

1.  Post on G+ with comment thread

2.  The Lamb shift post

3.  Lippman Schwinger scattering
Lippmann B. & Schwinger J. (1950). Variational Principles for Scattering Processes. I, Physical Review, 79 (3) 469-480. DOI:

4.  Senitzky as violinist

5.  People on the other Dr. Senitzky,,20127693,00.html

6.  Senitzky on coherent states
Senitzky I. (1954). Harmonic Oscillator Wave Functions, Physical Review, 95 (5) 1115-1116. DOI:

7.  Copasetice Flows on Senitzky

8.  The Cannonical Hamiltonian on David Tressel Griggs


Popular posts from this blog

Cool Math Tricks: Deriving the Divergence, (Del or Nabla) into New (Cylindrical) Coordinate Systems

The following is a pretty lengthy procedure, but converting the divergence, (nabla, del) operator between coordinate systems comes up pretty often. While there are tables for converting between common coordinate systems, there seem to be fewer explanations of the procedure for deriving the conversion, so here goes!

What do we actually want?

To convert the Cartesian nabla

to the nabla for another coordinate system, say… cylindrical coordinates.

What we’ll need:

1. The Cartesian Nabla:

2. A set of equations relating the Cartesian coordinates to cylindrical coordinates:

3. A set of equations relating the Cartesian basis vectors to the basis vectors of the new coordinate system:

How to do it:

Use the chain rule for differentiation to convert the derivatives with respect to the Cartesian variables to derivatives with respect to the cylindrical variables.

The chain rule can be used to convert a differential operator in terms of one variable into a series of differential operators in terms of othe…

The Valentine's Day Magnetic Monopole

There's an assymetry to the form of the two Maxwell's equations shown in picture 1.  While the divergence of the electric field is proportional to the electric charge density at a given point, the divergence of the magnetic field is equal to zero.  This is typically explained in the following way.  While we know that electrons, the fundamental electric charge carriers exist, evidence seems to indicate that magnetic monopoles, the particles that would carry magnetic 'charge', either don't exist, or, the energies required to create them are so high that they are exceedingly rare.  That doesn't stop us from looking for them though!

Keeping with the theme of Fairbank[1] and his academic progeny over the semester break, today's post is about the discovery of a magnetic monopole candidate event by one of the Fairbank's graduate students, Blas Cabrera[2].  Cabrera was utilizing a loop type of magnetic monopole detector.  Its operation is in concept very simpl…

Unschooling Math Jams: Squaring Numbers in their own Base

Some of the most fun I have working on math with seven year-old No. 1 is discovering new things about math myself.  Last week, we discovered that square of any number in its own base is 100!  Pretty cool!  As usual we figured it out by talking rather than by writing things down, and as usual it was sheer happenstance that we figured it out at all.  Here’s how it went.

I've really been looking forward to working through multiplication ala binary numbers with seven year-old No. 1.  She kind of beat me to the punch though: in the last few weeks she's been learning her multiplication tables in base 10 on her own.  This became apparent when five year-old No. 2 decided he wanted to do some 'schoolwork' a few days back.

"I can sing that song... about the letters? all by myself now!"  2 meant the alphabet song.  His attitude towards academics is the ultimate in not retaining unnecessary facts, not even the name of the song :)

After 2 had worked his way through the so…