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By Michael Nauenberg, Chair, Pais Prize Selection Committee
In early October, the American Physical Society and American Institute of Physics announced that Max Jammer has been named to receive the 2007 Pais Prize in History of Physics “for his groundbreaking historical studies of fundamental concepts in physics, including his comprehensive account of the development of quantum mechanics.” He joins Martin Klein and John Heilbron, who received this Forum- sponsored Prize in 2005 and 2006. He is the first winner of the Pais Prize — which was specifically intended to be awarded internationally — who is not a US citizen.
Jammer was born in Berlin , Germany , in 1915. He studied physics and its history first at the University of Vienna and then at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1942. After active service in the British Army during World War II, he lectured on the history and philosophy of science at the Hebrew University . In the early 1950s, while lecturing at Harvard, he wrote the first of his penetrating studies in the history of physics, Concepts of Space (Harvard University Press, 1954), which has a foreword by Albert Einstein. While serving as professor at the University of Oklahoma , he was invited to teach at Bar-Ilan University in Tel-Aviv, where he later served as Rector and President. He also participated in the founding of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Tel-Aviv University , and served as president of the Israeli Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a member of the Académie International d'Histoire des Sciences and has served on the editorial boards of several scientific journals. For his publications he has received many awards, among them the Israeli Prize and the Academy Monograph Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Jammer's main field of research is the history and philosophy of fundamental concepts in physics. In addition to Concepts of Space , which appeared in a revised and updated edition and has been translated into several foreign languages, he has written Concepts of Force (Harvard, 1957), Concepts of Mass in Classical Mechanics and Modern Physics (Harvard, 1964), and Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy ( Princeton University Press, 2001).
Jammer's other books include his pioneering and comprehensive study, The Conceptual Development of Quantum Mechanics (McGraw-Hill, 1966), which was republished in a revised edition in 1989 by the American Institute of Physics. He knew many of the main protagonists in his story personally, including Paul Dirac and Werner Heisenberg, who read substantial parts of his book and discussed them with him in detail. Jammer also interviewed many other founders of quantum mechanics, including Louis de Broglie, Pascual Jordan, and Eugene Wigner. He subsequently published his companion study, The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics (John Wiley, 1974), a historically oriented book that has also become a standard work in the field. His recent book Einstein and Religion (Harvard, 1999) has also been well received.
Among his many scholarly articles, Jammer's recent essay, “The Strange Story of the Concept which Inaugurated Modern Theoretical Physics” ( Foundations of Physics , November 2004), deserves special attention. The enthusiastic reception it received encouraged him to write his latest book, Concepts of Simultaneity: From Antiquity to Einstein and Beyond, to be published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 2006.