APS News

Letters to the Editor

A Series of Comments on Fourier

As always, the March “This Month in Physics History” column in APS News was well documented and very interesting. I would just like to add some information on the biography of Joseph Fourier, for your readers. You write that he “was selected for a new teacher–training school to help rebuild France, where he studied under three of the most prominent French mathematicians, Joseph Louis Lagrange, Pierre-Simon Laplace, and Gaspard Monge".

 May I add several points :
• This school was the first Ecole normale founded in 1794 which is still active as the Ecole normale supérieure (Paris). The magnificent lectures of the three mathematicians have recently been edited as the “leçons de mathématiques” under the direction of Jean Dhombres (Dunod) .

• Joseph Fourier also had classes in natural sciences by the crystallographer René Just Haüy, the chemist Claude Louis Berthollet, and the biologist Louis Daubenton. I recently produced a critical edition of the leçons de Physique, de chimie et d'histoire naturelle. (éditions Rue d'Ulm-Paris).

• All the high-level courses, after a revolutionary troubled period, were given to a large number of students. They indeed intended to provide all of France with school teachers. They still offer  one of the most remarkable pictures of science a few years after the Encyclopedie was published. The lectures were reproduced to be distributed to all the students two weeks after the classes had been given, together with debates. We have recordings of clever questions asked during the debates by Joseph Fourier.

• Fourier was appointed professor at Ecole Polytechnique just  after this initial training. The two “Grandes Ecoles” had been created that same year by the revolutionary Convention.

Etienne Guyon
Paris, France

Early Work on Graphitic Epitaxial Growth

In the January issue of APS News, Andre Geim stated in a letter that “the earliest paper on graphitic epitaxial growth which I am aware of dates back to 1975 [1]”, and that “I am certain that even earlier papers will eventually be found, and I would most welcome further historical insights.”

I would like to draw your attention to a paper that Walt Haas and I published in 1970 where we found a monolayer of graphite formed on Ru(0001) surfaces during experiments aimed at determining how to obtain atomically clean surfaces of Ru(0001). The paper was entitled “A Study of Ru(0001) and Rh(111) Surfaces using LEED and Auger Electron Spectroscopy”, submitted 24 November 1969, and it was published in Surface Science, Vol. 21, pages 76-85 in 1970.

When I visited Prof. Gao's group at the Institute of Physics in Beijing on 24 October 2008, I was shown some recent LEED and Auger work of theirs regarding the growth of graphene on Ru(0001). They were surprised when I showed them my results from over 35 years earlier where the LEED patterns and Auger spectra were almost identical. They apologized that their literature search did not go back that far and that they were completely unaware of my earlier work. Their work was published in Advanced Materials, Vol. 21, pages 2777-2780 in 2009, and includes STM and XPS data as well.
John T. Grant
Dayton OH

Senator Reid Will Fix It

I thought Michael Lubell’s article, “If it’s broken, fix it,” [Inside the Beltway, APS News, April 2010] was so good that I sent an e-mail to Senator Harry Reid to draw his attention to the article's suggestions of non-partisan redistricting, free TV-ad time, and making filibustering, if called, a burdensome activity.

Nick Carrera
Falls Church, VA

Back Page Nails It

Please accept my belated commendations on the Back Page by Virginia Corless ("Theater Deepens the Vision of Physics") in the February APS News. As a theater professional and instructor for over twenty years, it is always surprising that most individuals “outside the box” have very little comprehension of how so many systems have to mold together for a successful process. This is what it takes to make a satisfying production and experiment. Ms. Corless hit the nail on the head.

One rarely sees any attention given to the performing arts in such a notable setting. Many thanks for broadening our horizons!
James Gandolfo                 
Newport News, VA

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Editor: Alan Chodos