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Interview with Paul S. Epstein

Epstein, Paul S. (1991) Interview with Paul S. Epstein. [Oral History]

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Memoirs recorded by Paul Sophus Epstein (1883-1966) with his wife, Alice Epstein, late in 1965 and possibly into early 1966. He describes his undergraduate and graduate study in physics at Moscow University, 1901-1909, under P. N. Lebedev, and his move to Munich in early 1910 to begin his doctoral study under A. Sommerfeld. He remembers his professors in Russia: N. V. Bugaev, N. A. Umov, B. Mlodziowski, N. E. Zhukovsky, A. P. Sokolov; his Russian student colleagues T. P. Kravets, A. K. Timiryazev, P. P. Lazarev, and V. K. Arkadiev. He acknowledges P. Ehrenfest's influence in the move to Munich and the change from experimental to theoretical physics, and he recounts aspects of Ehrenfest's early career. Educational practices and social conditions of the turn of the century and early decades of the twentieth century in both Russia and Germany are discussed in detail, including the situation of European Jews and anti-Semitic laws and attitudes. Sommerfeld's scientific background and connections in Königsberg, Göttingen and Aachen are described: mathematicians D. Hilbert, F. Klein, H. Minkowski; the philosopher E. Husserl. Epstein remembers his German professors: C. L. F. Lindemann (mathematics), P. H. von Groth (crystallography), W. C. Röntgen (physics); his Munich student colleagues P. Debye, M. von Laue, A. F. Ioffe, P. P. Koch, P. P. Ewald, and A. Rosenthal; and he recollects important intellectual exchanges at Munich Stammtische. Epstein notes his involvement with avant-garde Munich artists from the Blaue Reiter circle, including P. Klee, W. Kandinsky, F. Marc, and A. von Jawlensky. World War I delays the completion of his studies and creates financial hardship. He recounts leaving Munich for Zurich (1919), where he meets A. Einstein; his Habilitation thesis on the application of the Stark effect to optics creates a stir. He subsequently moves to Leiden to assist Ehrenfest and H. Lorentz (1921). During these years, Epstein marries and divorces Mina (Maria) and develops interest in psychoanalysis; he meets Freud in Switzerland ca. 1920. Epstein meets R. A. Millikan in Leiden, decides to take teaching position at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He describes his early period at Caltech and colleagues there (1920s). Epstein ends with an account of Röntgen's career, especially his discovery of X rays; discusses Röntgen's relations with Sommerfeld in Munich.

Item Type:Oral History
Additional Information:ADDENDUM to the Paul S. Epstein oral history concerning the Halpern family, 2010. The Caltech Archives was contacted in the spring of 2010 by Mr. Alec Jeakins of Haresfield, Gloucestershire, England, with information on the Halpern family who are mentioned in the Paul S. Epstein oral history. Specifically, George Halpern was claimed by Epstein as a second cousin (see interview, p. 34). Alec Jeakins and members of his parish, St. Peter's, Haresfield, chose to write tributes to the Royal Air Force (RAF) men buried in their cemetery during World War II. Jeakins wrote about Wolf Halpern, who was the son of George Halpern, Epstein's cousin. Mr. Jeakins shared this information with the Archives in an e-mail of 16 May 2010: My interest is in the references [in the Paul S. Epstein oral history] to George Halpern (1878-1962), also known as Georg and Gad. His son Wolf is buried in my local churchyard following a flying accident while serving with the RAF in 1943. Page 34 "Hayman" is almost certainly Hans or H. G. Heymann who was a witness at George Halpern's wedding on 28 December 1906. Pages 36 and 37: George's girlfriend/wife was Emily Lampert; all the details given match the information I have located. A copy of Alec Jeakins's full tribute to Wolf Halpern with background on his family is deposited in the Caltech Archives in the Paul S. Epstein Historical Files.
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Epstein_P
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Official Citation:Epstein, Paul. Interview by Alice Epstein. Pasadena, California. Beginning November 22, 1965. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
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ID Code:73
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:23 Dec 2010
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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