Confronting the Sphinx
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Confronting the Sphinx book
The young Werner Heisenberg was awed and impressed on entering the physics seminar room of the University of Berlin on this day early in 1926.1
He was only 24 years old, and had been invited to give a lecture on the “new” quantum mechanics, which had just been born. While rather feverishly throwing a final glance at his notes, he saw, taking seats in the front row, the upper crust of the international physics community: Max Planck, Walther Nernst, Max von Laue, and others. The faces of these physicists, famous for their fundamental discoveries, held all of the seriousness and rigorous composure of German academic life. Then, just before the hour set for the beginning of the lecture, the physicist who impressed him most, he whose work he had admired since adolescence, when he had discovered the theory of general relativity in a book2 entitled Space, Time, Matter, he whose letters were read aloud by his professor and thesis advisor in Munich, Arnold Sommerfeld, to illustrate his course: Albert Einstein entered the room and sat down in the front row, giving him a friendly smile, partly to excuse himself for nearly arriving late, and above all to put him at ease.