Hans Bethe at Rice University ~1973 - click for larger image

Hans Bethe was the first to figure out the details of how stars work. His insight remains one of the foundations of modern astrophysics: that a sequence of specific nuclear reactions in the hot, dense gas at the center of the Sun and other stars releases the energy that makes them shine. The same nuclear interactions synthesize the chemical elements that comprise the Earth --- and us. The measurement and calculation of those reaction rates has kept countless grad students busy for decades since Bethe came up with the key idea in the late 1930s. He was awarded a Nobel prize (1967) for this and other research in atomic and nuclear physics.

In the course of my undergraduate work I remember studying Bethe and Salpeter's text Quantum Mechanics of One- and Two-Electron Atoms. It is a meticulous and precise map of a path through the thickets of horrendously complex calculations needed to understand, in full detail, the simplest of the elements. In a less serious context, Bethe's name also appears on an important nuclear physics paper written in the 1950s by George Gamow and Ralph Alpher --- research which Bethe was not actually involved with at all. But Gamow insisted on listing him as a co-author, and Hans acquiesced. The paper has become famous in astrophysical circles as "Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow" --- pronounced, of course, like the first three letters of the Greek alphabet.

Circa 1973 Bethe visited Rice University, where during one of his talks I snapped the above photo of him.

Hans Albrecht Bethe (1906-2005) --- Stellar Performer

(I used a subminiature Yashica Atoron camera and 8mm Tri-X film; click on the image for a higher resolution version. See also HighPrecision (16 Jul 2002), EssentialElements (4 Feb 2003), FredHoyle (25 Sep 2004), HannesAlfven (16 Oct 2004), ...)

TopicScience - TopicProfiles - TopicPersonalHistory - 2004-11-29

(correlates: HannesAlfven, FredHoyle, TheCrackCocaineOf, ...)