Bernard Diu

Theories Die Too Publication date : February 7, 2008

Scientific research is usually forgotten when it is unsuccessful or unverifiable or, as Bachelard wrote, when it is not sanctioned by experimentation or by the general consensus of the scientific community. Yet, when young scientists first embark on an area of research, they do not know where it will take them. Sometimes, it leads to a dead-end.

It is the story of an apparent dead-end that Bernard Diu recounts here. In the early 1960s physicists were trying to formulate a theory that would explain the formation of elementary particles and that would account for their existence. One response to this quest was the so-called “bootstrap theory”, which had the advantage of linking relativity and quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, the theory did not work, and it was supplanted by the Gell'man theory, which explained atomic particles as well as quarks, which are even smaller. So all the efforts of French scientists, with the limited means of the post-war period, to elaborate the earlier unsuccessful theory turned out to be for nothing.

But was it for nothing? Not really. In writing this book, Diu found that he had, in fact, predicted the existence of an elementary particle, which was later observed.

In this exceptional book about the passion for scientific research, Diu gives us a fascinating view of the risks, hard work, dead-ends, rivalries and disappointments that it entails; but above all he lets us share in the excitement that science affords when it overcomes difficulties and resolves problems.

The state of research in France during the post-war years (1950-1960) is examined here in detail.

Bernard Diu is the author of acclaimed physics textbooks. This brilliantly written book combines the pleasure of reading with the joy of learning.

Bernard Diu teaches theoretical physics at the University of Paris VII-Denis Diderot. He is the author of Les atomes existent-ils vraiment? (1997), Traité de physique à l'usage des profanes (2000) and La Physique mot à mot (2005).