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Paul Dirac

1902 - 1984

Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac is a leading figure in 20th century physics. His Dirac Equation describes fermions and predicted the existence of anti-matter, winning him a Nobel Prize in 1933.

  • Nationality
  • English

  • Subject
  • Physics, theoretical

  • Fields
  • Quantum Mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, general relativity

  • Distinctions
  • Nobel Prize (shared with Erwin Schrödinger), 1933, "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory".

    Royal Medal (1939), Copley Medal (1952), Max Planck Medal (1952).

    J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize, 1969.

    Dirac turned down an offer of knighthood, but accepted the Order of Merit in 1973.

  • Posts
  • Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Cambridge University.

  • Theories
  • Dirac described the most general theory of quantum mechanics.

    He discovered the relativistic equation for the electron.

    His equation predicts the later proven conjecture that every fermion has an antiparticle.

    He developed a quantum field theory, which is still used as the basis for the particle theory in use today.

    Magnetic monopole theory, providing a theoretical symmetry to Maxwell's electromagnetism equations.

    Dirac quantised the gravitational field, providing a basis for the subsequent gauge and superstring theories.

  • Equations
  • Dirac Equation, describing the behaviour of fermions and predicts the existence of anti-matter:

    ihγμδμψ - mcψ = 0

    In natural units (iδ - m)ψ = 0

Paul Dirac is known to have had a strange, painfully introverted, personality. Born to a Swiss father and English mother, he married Margit Wigner in 1937, and it is often said that science owes a great debt to Margit for sustaining Paul, ensuring that he could work in his own way, unencumbered by normal social conventions, which he found difficult.

Paul Dirac produced many of the theoretical bases for quantum field theory and gravity, which has led to the modern theories in particle physics, string theory and quantum mechanics.

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