History of quantum field theory

History of quantum field theory

The history of quantum field theory starts with its creation by Dirac when he attempted to quantize the electromagnetic field in the late 1920s.


The early development of the field involved Fock, Pauli, Heisenberg, Bethe, Tomonaga, Schwinger, Feynman, and Dyson. This phase of development culminated with the construction of the theory of quantum electrodynamics in the 1950s.

Gauge theory

Gauge theory was formulated and quantized, leading to the unification of forces embodied in the standard model of particle physics. This effort started in the 1950s with the work of Yang and Mills, was carried on by Martinus Veltman and a host of others during the 1960s and completed by the 1970s through the word of Gerard 't Hooft, Frank Wilczek, David Gross and David Politzer.

Grand synthesis

Parallel developments in the understanding of phase transitions in condensed matter physics led to the study of the renormalization group. This in turn led to the grand synthesis of theoretical physics which unified theories of particle and condensed matter physics through quantum field theory. This involved the work of Michael Fisher and Leo Kadanoff in the 1970s which led to the seminal reformulation of quantum field theory by Kenneth Wilson.

Modern developments

The study of quantum field theory is alive and flourishing, as are applications of this method to many physical problems. It remains one of the most vital areas of theoretical physics today, providing a common language to many branches of physics.

Suggested reading

* Pais, Abraham ; "Inward Bound - Of Matter & Forces in the Physical World", Oxford University Press (1986) [ISBN 0-19-851997-4] Written by a former Einstein assistant at Princeton, this is a beautiful detailed history of modern fundamental physics, from 1895 (discovery of X-rays) to 1983 (discovery of vectors bosons at C.E.R.N.).

* Weinberg, Steven ; "The Quantum Theory of Fields - Foundations (vol. I)", Cambridge University Press (1995) [ISBN 0-521-55001-7] The first chapter (pp. 1-40) of Weinberg's monumental treatise gives a brief history of Q.F.T.

* Schweber, Silvian S. ; "Q.E.D. and the men who made it: Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga", Princeton University Press (1994) [ISBN 0-691-03327-7]

*Yndurain, Francisco Jose ; "Quantum Chromodynamics: An Introduction to the Theory of Quarks and Gluons", Springer Verlag, New York, 1983. [ISBN 0-387-11752-0]

* Miller, Arthur I. ; "Early Quantum Electrodynamics : A Sourcebook", Cambridge University Press (1995) [ISBN 0-521-56891-9]

* Schwinger, Julian ; "Selected Papers on Quantum Electrodynamics", Dover Publications, Inc. (1958) [ISBN 0-486-60444-6]

* O'Raifeartaigh, Lochlainn ; "The Dawning of Gauge Theory", Princeton University Press (May 5, 1997) [ISBN 0-691-02977-6]

* Cao, Tian Yu ; "Conceptual Developments of 20th Century Field Theories", Cambridge University Press (1997) [ISBN 0-521-63420-2]

* Darrigol, Olivier ; "La genèse du concept de champ quantique", Annales de Physique (France) 9 (1984) pp. 433-501. Text in French, adapted from the author's Ph.D. thesis.

See also

* History of physics
* Quantum field theory

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