Martin C. Gutzwiller


The average of co-authors, the journals where the publications have appeared, the presence or absence of well-known authors; most significantly, the variety of topics say something about the author. But there might be other features, like books, proceedings of special conferences, open discussions, articles for the general public, and then, of course, the participation in tasks for the benefit of the sciences in general. A few tracks of all these criteria can be found in my CV and LP, but they do not give a sufficient description of my life in the sciences. My experience covering essentially the second half of the 20-th century cannot be compared at all with whatever might happen in the first half of the 21-th century. Nevertheless, I hope that there will be circumstances that resemble situations in which I found myself, and where I had to take decisions whose consequences were not known in the long run. As an example, the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zuerich, alma mater of Einstein) had only two full professors in physics after WWII, W. Pauli and P. Scherer. There were no lectures in quantum mechanics, let alone in quantum field theory (QFT). I decided to learn out of some well known books of different degree of difficulty (Sommerfeld, Pauli, Dirac, van der Waerden, Wentzel). It was often hard work that required me to be very stubborn. In 1949 I decided to ask Pauli to supervise my "diploma-thesis", to be finished in 6 months. He asked me to figure out the anomalous magnetic moment of the (iso-spin pair) proton-neutron, supposed to be due to the interaction of a charged-vector pi-meson. Pauli assigned his post-doc Villars (later at MIT) to help me, and the three of us met once a month to discuss my work, with me just listening.
It worked quite well, and I got my diploma with very good grades. Normally, I would have started work on a PhD thesis,
but I took a job to install the first microwave telephone connection between Zuerich and Geneva, because there was no financial support available of any kind. After a year and a half I decided to go back to the ETH, either to continue there or to get a scholarship to the USA. Although my choices were very limited, I went to the USA. I still think that learning QFT by myself was a crucial step that allowed me to follow my curiosity rather than worrying about my career. Many young physicists completed esoteric PhD theses, and were hired to work on more down-to-earth problems that required a good sense for physical reality. The community of physicists does not seem to care enough about the great variety of areas that have been taken over by engineers in the last 40 years. What I had learned about plastic flow of crystals, about the magnetism in insulators, the flow of fluid in porous rocks, the elastic waves in solids was good physics. At the geophysical laboratory of Shell Oil Company in Houston it is done now by specialists trained in particular fields. When I arrived at the Research Laboratory of IBM I was able to function quite well with the knowledge from geophysics, I also became a professor at Columbia University in New York City to teach metallurgy in the Engineering School. When I participated in a symposium on theoretical chemistry, I decided that the transition from classical to quantum mechanics had not been investigated with sufficient care. With some work I found that periodic orbits played a fundamental role; I was sure to be on the right track. I had learned from my boss at IBM, an astronomy professor at Columbia U., that the orbit of the moon around the Earth is best understood as a deviation from an exact solution of all three bodies, Moon-Earth-Sun.