August 8th, 2012

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Prophets Without Honour

This is the 110th birthday of Paul Dirac, late quantum physicist of this parish, predictor of antimatter, and all-round high-functioning autistic guy.

I'm delighted that Dirac has (since 2006, 32 years after his death) had a road named after him in his home town, and that I live on it. I'm less delighted that, on the occasions I have to give my address verbally, I am invariably asked to spell his name: most Bristolians have clearly never heard of him. There's an unwritten rule in this city that everything has to be named after one of the triumvirate of Brunel, Cabot and Colston - the last being a slave trader who put his wealth to philanthropic use, thus leaving a somewhat ambiguous legacy. Dirac, despite winning the Nobel prize, is relatively unsung.

There are many anecdotes about Dirac's social awkwardness, but I particularly like this one from Wikipedia: "When he first met the young Richard Feynman at a conference, he said after a long silence, 'I have an equation. Do you have one too?'" It's a Kate Beaton cartoon trouvé.

Happy Birthday, Paul Dirac. And now, that equation again...

dirac equation