APS News


Wu's Leadership Role Questioned

In your otherwise well-written historical piece in the December 2001 issue of APS NEWS about parity non-conservation, it is unfortunate that you perpetuate an injustice which seems to have become permanently embedded in the "history" books. You refer to an NBS "team led by C. S. Wu" as having done the crucial experiment.

Entirely aside from the fact that an NBS team cannot have been led by a non-NBS scientist, there was no question of any formal leadership role for Dr. Wu, to my knowledge, and the NBS scientists, specifically Eric Ambler, have repeatedly chafed at the dominant role given to her in the histories. This injustice may have happened because histories tend to be written by theorists, and she was the one who communicated with the theorists, but she appears to have made no effort to correct it. That communication may have been strengthened by the fact that Lee and Yang are also Chinese as well as by academic snobbery which was at that time alive and well at Columbia.

Philip Anderson
Princeton, New Jersey

Uncle Joe a Barrel of Laughs

Almost all the Ig Nobel Awards (December Zero Gravity) are on the mark. But why ridicule "Stalin World" while "Springtime For Hitler" is breaking box office records in New York? Perhaps the spirit of thriving and surviving with humor and daring is being celebrated.

David Markowitz
Storrs, Connecticut

Didn't It Used to Be "Throop Institute"?

Thank you for the consistently high quality of APS News. I look forward to receiving it every month. Recently, one minor error caught my eye in an otherwise excellent article on the 2002 Apker Award. The section of the article on Kathryn Todd identified her as a student at "CalTech". The California Institute of Technology has used the shortened form "Caltech" exclusively since World War II, eliminating from official use the variants "Cal Tech" and "CalTech". The persistence of "CalTech" is indicated both by your recent article and a nearby street sign in Pasadena, which directs motorists to campus via the sign "CalTech ->". Nevertheless, "Caltech" is the correct shortened form, and I hope that future issues of APS News will reflect this.

Michael Hartl
California Institute of Technology

X-Ray Pioneer At Dartmouth

Reading the "This Month in Physics History" column in the November 2001 APS NEWS, I was amazed to find a false statement: "By February 1896, X rays were finding their first clinical use in the US in Dartmouth, MA..." Actually, the first X ray photograph in the US of a fractured arm was taken in Reed Hall on the Dartmouth campus in Hanover, NH.

In late January 1896, Professor Crehore had his young research assistant, Frank Austin, search through the physics department's collection of Crookes tubes for one that would produce Roentgen's X rays. By the end of the week he had the Puluj tube and therefore had obtained the first X ray photograph at Dartmouth College. Then, on the evening of Saturday, February 1, 1896, Charles Emerson and Edwin Frost found time to experiment with this tube. That weekend, Frost arranged to have his brother, Dr, Gilman D. Frost, bring his patient to Reed Hall on late Monday afternoon to have his fractured arm examined using the "new photography."

We still have the original Puluj tube, Apps coil and other instruments seen in "An Early X Ray Experiment at Dartmouth College," except for the battery of seven Grove cells, in the Dartmouth College Collection of Historical Scientific Apparatus.

Allen King
Hanover, New Hampshire

SI: Imbecilic or a Modern Improvement?

Regarding the Viewpoint by Charles McCutchen ["SI"=System Imbecile, APS News, October 2001] and the comment thereon by Jeffrey Marque [APS News, December 2001]:

The discussion about the Svedberg clearly shows why the use of such units is not a good idea. The two authors disagree on its magnitude and dimension. (Where is a place to look up the definition of such obscure units? What is the quantity that is being measured in Svedbergs?).

McCutchen admits that he is getting up in age. Being myself in the mid-eighties I realize that it is difficult to keep up with changes (tricks for old dogs?). But the older generation should not let their inertia get in the way of generally accepted improvements. There is little to be gained by hanging on to special units (like angstrom) when alternatives, such as micrometer and nanometer, that fit into the general scheme are available.

Have these authors considered the effect on students and general readers? Units can help in seeing relations and checking one's calculations and concepts. The effort required for scientists to abandon a few special units is small compared to the effort for students and the general reader to be able to handle all units which some specialist might like.

I was glad that Marque rewrites McCutchen's lengthy expression that supposedly gives some interpretation (or at least an alternative) of the Svedberg with parentheses so that it is unambiguous, as SI would require.

Mario Iona, Denver

The confusion over the Svedberg was due to a misplaced parenthesis in APS News. Both McCutchen and Marque were correct in their definitions. We regret the error. — Ed.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette