Kleppner theorizes physics

Physicist Daniel Kleppner ’53 spoke to a packed Wege Auditorium Saturday at 3 p.m. as part of the convocation lecture series. Judging by the audience’s reaction, Kleppner’s discussion of quantum mechanics was a success.

Kleppner, a professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began his speech with a description of the progress made in the field of quantum physics in the last hundred years. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Max Planck’s new way of looking at physics.

As he explained the development of quantum theory, Kleppner related aspects of the scientific community that produced much of the most fundamental work in the field. During the 1920s, a few brilliant scientists worked together and built on each other’s discoveries in order to lend truth to the quantum theory that Kleppner says “has transformed the world.”

Although most of the audience members were alumni, Kleppner’s discussion had special significance for students: many of the scientists who produced the evidence to validate quantum theory were in their twenties at the time. Kleppner contended that this was no coincidence: he said that “revolutionary ideas come from young people.”

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He then turned to the future, giving a list of things that might possibly be accomplished in the next 100 years of physics, including gaining an understanding of the origins of mass and integrating quantum physics and gravity. “We’d like to know everything,” he said.

Kleppner’s message was ultimately one of optimism. He reasoned that if the next century were as vigorous as the one he’d just described, it would not be foolish to expect answers to some of the questions that daunt today’s scientists. The audience appeared enthusiastic and impressed by Kleppner’s broad discussion of the past and future of quantum mechanics.

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