Yesterday the great theoretical physicist Hans Bethe passed away at the age of 98. Details can be found here.
Whenever I’m traveling and I’m trying to work on a plane, I think about Bethe. Because in 1947, Hans Bethe, on the trainride back to Schenectady, made the first rough calculation of the Lamb shift. And today, when we rush around the world, jetsetting our way from conference to conference, I often wonder if we slowed down, and took the train, whether physics wouldn’t be better off.
Then, of course, there is the famous Physical Review 73, 803 (1948), “The Origin of Chemical Elements” by R. A. Alpher, H. Bethe, and G. Gamow. I’ve always dreamed of finding a coauthor with a suitable last name to go with my food item last name “Bacon.”
Finally, there is this amusing story of a conversation between Bethe and Leo Szilard:
The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: “I don’t intend to publish. I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.”
“Don’t you think God knows the facts?” Bethe asked.
“Yes,” said Szilard. “He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts.”