UoB BMVP Tom Pashby Public Lecture - How Dirac Found His Electron Equation

28 June 2018, 5.00 PM - 28 June 2018, 6.30 PM

Dr Tom Pashby

Mott Lecture Theatre, Physics

Dr Tom Pashby profile pictureThis public lecture, open to all, celebrates the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Dirac Equation. Paul A. M. Dirac (1902-1984) was a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a University of Bristol alumnus as well as a Bristol native, born and bred. Like Isaac Newton, Dirac was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, but his education up to the master’s level took place within yards of the physics department at Bristol. Dirac was the first physicist since Michael Faraday to be memorialised within Westminster Abbey; the Dirac Equation is the only equation to appear within its hallowed walls.

This lecture details the results from University of Chicago professor Thomas Pashby’s research in the Dirac archives. His interpretations of newly discovered manuscripts reveal the way that Dirac was led to his pathbreaking and celebrated relativistic electron equation by ‘thinking geometrically’. Until now, historians relying on the published accounts of Dirac’s discovery of the equation have not appreciated its origins in his geometrical understanding of space and time. Graham Farmelo, author of the award-winning Dirac biography The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius, writes that “Pashby’s work on the origins of the Dirac equation is the most exciting research I’ve ever seen in this field.” 

One of the world’s leading authorities on Dirac, Professor Pashby’s research focuses more broadly on the philosophy of physics and the history and philosophy of science. His work has been published in the field’s top journals. He is particularly interested in questions about the nature of time, matter, and light in modern physics and has spent years studying Dirac with expert physicists such as Peter Goddard of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. He trained with top Einstein historian John D. Norton and world-renowned philosopher of physics John Earman at the University of Pittsburgh’s highly regarded Department of History and Philosophy of Science (the world’s best according to the Philosophical Gourmet Report rankings).  Following the receipt of his doctorate in 2014, he was awarded a prestigious Provost’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Southern California before taking his current tenure-track position at the elite University of Chicago (which ranks only behind Princeton and Harvard in American universities according to US News and ninth in the world per the Times Higher Education Supplement).

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.