A 1960s PhD – (1) Baggage!

I started my PhD at the end of 1963, but what preceded that is relevant because I started with baggage that most students do not have to carry. During the summer of 1962-3 (southern hemisphere!) I was given employment to assist a little research. The department had been involved with the Hammett equation, and had been looking at some benzylammonium dissociation constants. I had the job of purifying some and making some measurements, which I did, and which introduced me to physical organic chemistry and put my name on a paper for the first time. Then in my honours year, selenium poisoning due to the failure of fume cupboard ducting led to my missing lectures frequently. Then came disillusionment. A lecture on the quantum mechanics of the hydrogen molecule led to an equation across the blackboard, and the lecturer said that he would try to show how progress could be made in solving it. I stopped the lecture to point out the equation had an energy minimum when the internuclear distance approached zero, and where it was supposed to be infinite. (If you want to do theory, it helps if you can mentally determine critical aspects of a function.) The lecturer did not know what had gone wrong (and he was only lecturing QM because someone had to). I suddenly discovered that lecturers did not necessarily understand what they were teaching! And they were going to determine my honours level!

I wanted to understand, so later, once again sick, I thought, if wave particle duality occurs, as in diffraction, electrons do not have an option: they

Now what? The next step was to go to the library. Unfortunately, with finals about five weeks away, most of the "good" books were gone. One that was there was by de Broglie, on his "double solution". The good news was that there was someone there who felt that there was a real wave there, which although not necessary for the above reasoning, seemed to be the only way there was a physical cause. The bad news was that it was clear that I needed to learn some more physics to make sense of quantum mechanics. One more thing was clear: I had to avoid quantum mechanics in my finals! So, when finals were over, and my total neglect of quantum mechanics had paid dividends, I had a decision: progress to PhD or go back and do physics. I decided to progress, and put my efforts to learn physics to one side. I could teach myself, so I thought. It turned out to be an interesting decision because I avoided bothering about the mathematical formalism of the state vector approach, which of course specifically forbids factorizing the wave function as I did above. My next problem was simple: choose a PhD project. More soon.

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