Tuesday, 22 July 2014

"Many, if not most, particle physicists despised nuclear physics"

My recent post mentioning Skyrmions has prompted me to walk down the corridor to get back my copy of Selected Papers, with Commentary, of Tony Hilton Royle Skyrme, which I bought on a whim when World Scientific were having a sale.  A quick search through my email reveals I bought 9 books at the time, all for £6 each.  I guess I thought it was a great bargain at the time, and actually I've made decent use of some of the books.  I don't suppose I'll ever open the 1200-page Sixty Years of Double Beta Decay but it may give me a bit of exercise next time I have to move offices.

Anyway, I thought I'd try to get better acquainted with the basics of Skyrmions, and it seemed like a good place to start.  I haven't got onto the real subject matter yet, but can't resist quoting this from the preamble to the commentary on the Skyrmion papers (which form one section of the book).  Penned by the editor, Gerald E. Brown, who died recently -- there is a special issue of Nuclear Physics A coming out soon in his honour (see here) -- it is written in an informal way discussing the history of the Skyrmion and its links with other field theory approaches to nuclei and nucleons.  He (Brown) says
I told [Feynman] that the MIT bag model of quarks was simply too large;  it had a radius R of ~ 1 fm. With such a large radius, the nucleons would be like grapefruit in a bowl.  It would be difficult to see how they could perform the independent motion that they exhibit in the shell model.

Feynman responded by a number of objections and penetrating questions, but he was obviously intrigued.  This was a great stimulation to me, since many, if not most, particle physicists despised nuclear physics.  (In fact the only criticism that I have of Sanyuk's article is that it tries to convert Tony Skyrme retroactively into a particle theorist.)  Feynman asked me how I wanted to compress the MIT bag.  I told him that the pion cloud would compress the quarks.  Only later, I discovered that in the Skyrme model, the pion cloud compressed the quarks to a point, the point source of the baryon number.

The underlining is mine.  The whole prologue is written in the same style -- the sort of freewheeling arrogance that big-name professors sometimes profess.  Quite a rollicking read, really.  But is it true? Do most particle physicists really hate nuclear physics?  It would explain a lot.