Forschungskolloquium zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte

Getting to Know "the Language of Dirac’s Theory of Radiation." Narratives and Representations of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) in the 1930s

16:15 - 17:45 Uhr
Veranstaltet von
Friedrich Steinle
Vortragende Person(en)
Markus Ehberger (TU Berlin)

This presentation is based on some insights from my dissertational research on the historical development of the concept of virtual particles. These particles are deeply connected to a calculational technique and regularly perceived of as “not really” there. Nevertheless, they are the intermediaries in the theoretical description of any interaction in (perturbative) QED. I will argue that a suitable way to study the historical development of such physical-mathematical concepts is to focus on their role in “narratives”: exemplary ways in which concepts and their representations are used and organized in the theoretical explanation of physical phenomena. I will reconstruct how P.A.M. Dirac (1927) introduced such a narrative of the light-matter interaction based on the notions of virtual transitions and virtual states (in modern terminology). Through the study of historical examples, I will show how physicists applied, represented and extended Dirac’s narrative, how, in this process, they gathered a better understanding of the concepts involved therein and how, from a modern vantage point, they were, at times, led astray.


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