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Physics Interest Group

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Meeting time: Fridays 1:30–3:00 pm
Meeting place: 127 Shepherd Labs

The physics interest group (PIG) reads and discusses works of mutual interest in the history and philosophy of physics. We select readings for a variety of reasons: to keep up on the most exciting developments in the field, to help participants scrutinize literature relevant to their research projects (faculty or graduate student research), to provide feedback on works in progress being written by participants (graduate students, faculty, and Center visitors), to revisit classic articles in the literature, and sometimes just to have fun discussing a topic related to physics. For more information please contact Michel Janssen. If you wold like to be added to the PIG email list please send a request to

Spring 2014

January 31, 2014 Andreas Hütterman (University of Cologne) will be visiting

February 7, 2014 Spekkens, R. 2013. "The Paradigm of Kinematics and Dynamics Must Yield to Causal Structure" arXiv:1209.0023 (quant-ph)
Robert Spekkens (Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Canada) will be visiting.

February 28, 2014 Clayton Gearhart (St John's University) will be presenting his work on the Franck–Hertz experiment. "Experimentalists in Search of a Theory: The Franck–Hertz Experiments, 1911–1914"

March 28, 2014 No meeting this week

April 11, 2014 Preparation for Seven Pines XVIII (History of Quantum Mechanics: Beyond the Formative Period).
Michael Eckert (2013) Arnold Sommerfeld Science, Life and Turbulent Times 1868–1951 (translated by Tom Artin) Chapters 9 and 14. New York: Springer. (pdf)

April 25, 2014 Preparation for Seven Pines XVIII (History of Quantum Mechanics: Beyond the Formative Period).
Tracy Lupher (2010) "Not Particles, Not Quite Fields: An Ontology for Quantum Field Theory" Humana Mente 13: 155–173. (pdf)
Anthony Duncan and Michel Janssen (2008) "Pascual Jordan’s resolution of the conundrum of the wave-particle duality of light" Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 39: 634– 666. (pdf)

May 9, 2014 We will try to make some sense of the Aharonov-Bohm effect, one of the Seven Pines topics.  There is a great deal in the reader.  The articles by Healey and Wallace are probably the ones to look at first.  Michel tells me (CAG) that in the past, he has found the latter more intelligible.
I am finding it prudent to do supplementary reading; for those in the same position, I attach an excerpt from David Griffith's QM textbook.  All that is really necessary is the section on the Aharonov-Bohm effect, but the earlier stuff gives a very interesting context--I had not known about the Berry's phase/geometrical phase business.  Other sources are the Feynman Lectures, ch 15; and the downloads page of  Chapter 4, perhaps supplemented by chapter 3 and the appendix, gives a very nice tutorial. (pdf)
Note that both Griffiths and Wittig treat the example of a charged particle constrained to follow a circular path.  If one puts that path in a region where the magnetic field is zero but the vector potential is not, the degeneracy can be lifted.  Wittig gives a nice illustration showing how the energy levels are (and aren't) shifted.
The central idea is that unlike the situation in classical e&m, the magnetic vector potential in QM has observable consequences, much to everyone's surprise.  Some philosophers, and perhaps some physicists, claim the effect is another example of non-locality. Others, including Feynman, say that it is a purely local effect.  Clayton Gearhart

Previous PIG discussion topics

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