Cover image for True genius : the life and science of John Bardeen : the only winner of two Nobel Prizes in physics
True genius : the life and science of John Bardeen : the only winner of two Nobel Prizes in physics
Hoddeson, Lillian.
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Washington, D.C. : Joseph Henry Press, [2002]

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xi, 467 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
The question of genius -- Roots -- To be an engineer -- A graduate student's paradise -- Many-body beginnings -- Academic life -- Engineering for national defense -- The transistor -- The break from Bell -- Homecoming -- Cracking the riddle of superconductivity -- Two Nobels are better than one hole in one -- A hand in industry -- Citizen of science -- Pins and needles and waves -- Last journey -- True genius and how to cultivate it.
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QC16.B27 H63 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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What is genius? Define it. Now think of scientists who embody the concept of genius. Does the name John Bardeen spring to mind? Indeed, have you ever heard of him?

Like so much in modern life, immediate name recognition often rests on a cult of personality. We know Einstein, for example, not just for his tremendous contributions to science, but also because he was a character, who loved to mug for the camera. And our continuing fascination with Richard Feynman is not exclusively based on his body of work; it is in large measure tied to his flamboyant nature and offbeat sense of humor.

These men, and their outsize personalities, have come to erroneously symbolize the true nature of genius and creativity. We picture them born brilliant, instantly larger than life. But is that an accurate picture of genius? What of others who are equal in stature to these icons of science, but whom history has awarded only a nod because they did not readily engage the public? Could a person qualify as a bona fide genius if he was a regular Joe?

The answer may rest in the story of John Bardeen.

John Bardeen was the first person to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes in the same field. He shared one with William Shockley and Walter Brattain for the invention of the transistor. But it was the charismatic Shockley who garnered all the attention, primarily for his Hollywood ways and notorious views on race and intelligence.

Bardeen's second Nobel Prize was awarded for the development of a theory of superconductivity, a feat that had eluded the best efforts of leading theorists -- including Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Richard Feynman. Arguably, Bardeen's work changed the world in more ways than that of any other scientific genius of his time. Yet while every school child knows of Einstein, few people have heard of John Bardeen. Why is this the case?

Perhaps because Bardeen differs radically from the popular stereotype of genius. He was a modest, mumbling Midwesterner, an ordinary person who worked hard and had a knack for physics and mathematics. He liked to picnic with his family, collaborate quietly with colleagues, or play a round of golf. None of that was newsworthy, so the media, and consequently the public, ignored him.

John Bardeen simply fits a new profile of genius. Through an exploration of his science as well as his life, a fresh and thoroughly engaging portrait of genius and the nature of creativity emerges. This perspective will have readers looking anew at what it truly means to be a genius.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The fact that he won an unprecedented two Nobel prizes in physics (in 1956 and 1972) may be the only extraordinary thing about John Bardeen. He grew up in a middle-class home in Wisconsin with his doctor father, interior designer mother and four siblings. He apparently worked hard, cared deeply about his family, loved sports, was, by all accounts, a gracious and likable colleague and devoted himself to his graduate students. He was also tenacious in pursuit of answers to complex problems in his discipline. Working with William Shockley and Walter Brattain, Bardeen developed the world's first transistor in 1947 and, ten years later, with J. Robert Schrieffer and Leon Cooper, he created a theory of superconductivity. Hoddeson (Crystal Fire) and Daitch attempt a portrait of this unassuming Midwesterner, but offer little more than a rough sketch. As they write in their preface, "We are painfully aware that this book merely scratches the surface of its subject." Little insight is offered beyond descriptions of Bardeen's friends, co-workers and activities. The authors attempt to provide a conceptual framework by examining "the meaning of true scientific genius," but this is largely done in a superficial, 17-page epilogue. Bardeen deserves more public recognition than he received during his life; this book may help in some measure, but it won't bring readers any closer to the man himself. (Oct. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Bardeen is not known to the general public and is little known even to scientists. He remains the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in physics--for the invention of the transistor and for the theory of superconductivity. This biography does justice to one of the great contributors to modern science and technology. The humble Bardeen was taken advantage of by the flamboyant William Shockley. Shockley organized a publicity campaign, with the backing of Bell Labs management, to build himself up as the inventor of the transistor to the detriment of Bardeen and Brattain, the true discoverers. Moreover, Shockley banned Bardeen from working on transistors so that Shockley could take credit for all future developments. Bardeen obtained his doctorate under polymath Eugene Wigner at Princeton and worked with four other physics Nobel laureates. His theory of superconductivity succeeded after the "Great Men of Physics" all tried and failed, and he was rapidly awarded another Nobel Prize. He then worked on charge density waves, and, strangely, this greatest living American physicist had difficulty obtaining funding from NSF and had difficulty getting his work published in Physical Review. This is an essential work in the history of science. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. A. M. Strauss Vanderbilt University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1 The Question of Geniusp. 1
2 Rootsp. 8
3 To Be an Engineerp. 28
4 A Graduate Student's Paradisep. 45
5 Many-Body Beginningsp. 66
6 Academic Lifep. 83
7 Engineering for National Defensep. 99
8 The Transistorp. 115
9 The Break from Bellp. 142
10 Homecomingp. 165
11 Cracking the Riddle of Superconductivityp. 190
12 Two Nobels Are Better Than One Hole in Onep. 219
13 A Hand in Industryp. 241
14 Citizen of Sciencep. 254
15 Pins and Needles and Wavesp. 284
16 Last Journeyp. 301
17 Epilogue: True Genius and How to Cultivate Itp. 314
Bibliographyp. 331
Acknowledgmentsp. 359
Notesp. 363
Indexp. 445