Julian Schwinger

Schwinger founded the theory of quantum electrodynamics, along with Feynman and Tomonaga, after Dirac's pioneering work. He did important work also in quantum statistical physics, and the KMS condition is named after Kubo, Martin and Schwinger.

I met Schwinger in about 1963 when I was responsible for organising the seminars at Imperial College. I had already invited the speakers for the next few weeks, when Salam asked if I knew that Schwinger, an obvious choice for a speaker, would be visiting London in a fortnight's time. I should, he said, write politely to the speaker who had already agreed to come; could he give his talk at a later date and make space for Schwinger? This the speaker agreed to do. I wrote to Schwinger but he replied that his visit to London was to get some rest and have a holiday. So I reported this to Salam, and prepared to reinvite the original speaker. "You did not take no for an answer?", asked Salam. I made a face at this question, and Salam immediately said, of course, I could not argue with Schwinger. He then said that, just this once, he, Salam, would take charge of the seminar; he would get Schwinger to agree, and then let me know how he did it, so that I might learn something. Sure enough, a few days before the date that the seminar was due, I was asked to advertise Schwinger's talk, with a title something like "Gauge invariance in q.e.d". The talk was not about a new theory, but it was well attended, even by students.

Later, I got my lesson from Salam on how to do these things. First, he sent a telegram to Schwinger, saying that we all understood that he wanted a holiday, and we would respect that. But, let the costs be on us anyway. This Schwinger agreed (according to Salam). Then, Salam and P. T. Matthews met Schwinger from the plane, with a large hired limo, and took him to his hotel, where he was left alone for three days. After this incubation period, Salam phoned to ask if the hotel was OK, and if Schwinger was enjoying all the shows etc that London offers. Oh, said Schwinger, I have not been out of the hotel (which was very OK). You CAN'T come to London without seeing the sights, says Salam; and Schwinger agreed to be the guest of Salam and Matthews at dinner the next evening. They went to a dining club in Soho, using the membership card of a previous visitor (the card had not run out). At the door, the doorman asked all visitors to sign the guest book, except Matthews, who had adopted the name on the card. Schwinger balked at this; it was a legal requirement in those days that clubs offering topless waitresses can admit only members and guests. What if it got out the he, Schwinger, had visited such a place? Come on, said Salam, you don't need to put your OWN name. Watch this! and he swept in, having signed "Abdullah". Schwinger was still hesitant, while the doorman was politely looking the other way. Come on, say Salam and Matthews, put any name; so Schwinger signs, and goes in. The next day, Schwinger agreed to give us a seminar. Salam asked him, what name he had put down; he replied "P. T. Matthews".

More about Schwinger on Kallén's page.


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© by Ray Streater, 6/6/00.