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The DeWitts and Bahnson and Babson: Part V of the Holiday Serial

Happy second half of the holiday season!  The long delay between parts IV, (Thomas Townsend Brown), and V was due to finally actually taking my finals and then getting to visit with friends and family over the holidays, and now we’re back!

Today’s chapter is firmly rooted in mainstream physics and is about Bryce and Cecile DeWitt, a husband and wife team of physicists.  Bryce and Cecile met at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, NJ.  Soon after, they were wed in Cecile’s native France in 1951.

Cecile was a force for physics in the United States as well as in her home, France. In France, Cecile started the Ecole De Physique des Houches, a physics summer school.  The school has been attended by many notable physicists over the years. At last count, it’s students included two dozen Nobel laureates before they won their prizes.

The school was started in a rather unorthodox manner inspired by the strictures of the times.  To gain access to the male minister of state in France who would eventually fund the school for its first year, Dr. DeWitt-Morette dressed as an office worker and waited until the minister’s secretary was at lunch. She then slipped into his office, asked for, and received an appointment.  She gained support for the school from her male colleagues by helping them think the whole thing was their idea.  She would propose the idea to them one week and then call them the following week to tell them that she thought what they had told her about about the week before was a great idea.

Bryce received a Fulbright fellowship at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay, India, and they both did work there.  While at the institute, they co-authored their first paper together, “The Quantum Theory of Interacting Gravitational and Spinor Fields“.  It was an early attempt to combine the fields of quantum mechanics, and general relativity, (Einstein’s theory of gravity).  Their first child was born in India and soon after, they returned to the United States.

Back in the States, they found a dearth of research jobs in general relativity. Bryce took a position working for Edward Teller at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The lab had recently been setup as one of America’s nuclear bomb laboratories.  While working there, Bryce was also on loan to the Institute for Advanced Studies at UC Berkley.  It’s during this time that he wrote the essay that finally lent credibility to the Gravity Research Foundation’s essay contest.  It was titled “New Directions for Research in the Theory of Gravitation“.  The essay actually rebuffed the GRF for not taking the study of the fundamentals of gravitation more seriously,

“Before anyone can have the audacity to form even the most rudimentary plan of attack on the problem of harnessing the force of gravitation, he must understand the nature of his adversary.”

The essay won first place and Bryce said it was the easiest $1000 he had ever earned.  More importantly for our story, the prize winning essay brought Bryce and Cecile DeWitt to the attention of Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr.  Bahnson, now a member of Babson’s Gravity Research Foundation.

Following Bryce’s entry, there was a year by year increase in the number of reputable scientists that entered the contest.  Eventually, the essay contest would have such notable winners as Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, and Banesh Hoffman.  Still, the early going was rough.  Oppenheimer actually requested that two scientists who worked for him and who won the contest soon after Dr. DeWitt give the prize money back.  He wasn’t sure he wanted the name of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton associated with the Gravity Research Foundation.  The two scientists kept the money.



2 Responses to “The DeWitts and Bahnson and Babson: Part V of the Holiday Serial”

  1. The Adventurous and Connected Life of David Tressel Griggs: Part VI of the Holiday Serial | The Canonical Hamiltonian Says:

    [...] Post navigation ← Previous [...]

  2. The Death of Antigravity, Holiday Serial 2013, Part I | The Canonical Hamiltonian Says:

    [...] if it were able to accelerate constantly at 1 G.  Cecile DeWitt-Morette who figured prominently in part V of last year’s serial would be there.  Finally, Louis Witten who worked for the Research Institute for Advanced Studies [...]

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