Princeton Years (1958-62)
and Years after Princeton
- Young Suh Kim
Department of Physics
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland 20742, U.S.A.
- Home Page.
- Princeton Page.
- On March 12, 1958, while I was a fourth-year student at
Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, I received a letter from Princeton University
telling me I ranked very high among the 15 students admitted to their graduate
program. This was the happiest day in my life. Going to Princeton was working
with Albert Einstein even though he went to Heaven three years earlier in 1955.
- Princeton was and still is a small town, and the university was a
single-gender school (boys only) until 1971. There were no excitements other
than studying at the libraries, and quarreling among students. My American
friends there were not always friendly to me. They used to tell me directly
- Koreans will never learn how to run their own country. The best solution
is to give the country back to Japan. Americans did not and still do not
know the history of that area before the Pearl Harbor day of December (1941).
- People with non-white skins do not have enough brains to make nuclear bombs. It is
safe to say that this kind of attitude was the cause of the present trouble with
North Korean nuclear bombs.
- I was strong in mathematics, and I used to brag about my high school background
in Korea, for some good reasons. My friends there asked
me whether my school lessons were given in English. When I told them they were
given in my own language, they could not understand how one could do mathematics
with the language other than Euro-American languages.
I think they were talking to me like these, because I was a good student there.
My granddaughter (11 years old in 2022) does not want to go to Princeton. I asked her why.
She said "Princeton is too competitive." I assume she heard this from her classmates.
- The city of New York is one-hour train ride from Princeton. I went to
New York often and was able to enjoy all aspects of American life. I still
maintain a webpage dedicated to the New York City.
- I worked hard at Princeton and got my PhD degree in 1961, and I was asked
to stay there for one additional year as a post-doctoral fellow until 1962.
Sam Treiman with Steve Weinberg. Weinberg is so famaus these days that not many
people know Treiman was his thesis advisor. This photo is from one of the
issues of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
- My thesis advisor was
Sam Treiman. He was a good teacher and wrote good letters for me throughout
my career. However, did he have enough scientific competence to support my research
results after my PhD degree? My answer is No.
I used to feel very bad about this, but not now. These days, I am known as a
self-made man among my colleagues in physics.
Since I published a number of papers
with Eugene Wigner (Nobel 1963) during the years from 1986 to 1990, I am also
known as Wigner's youngest student at Princeton.
Click here for an interesting story.
Steven Weinberg (Nobel 1979) was very famous. Did you know his advisor at
Princeton was also Sam Treiman? Weinberg got his degree in 1957, and I got mine
in 1961. You may check the list of Treiman's student from
- In 1962, I was appointed as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland
near the city of Washington, DC, and I started my professional career.
While I was struggling to find out my own way of doing physics, the physics world
produced a genius of the century in 1965. His name was
Roger Dashen, and he
became a full professor at the Princeton's Institute of Advanced Study in 1965.
I became very unhappy because of my Herod Complex.
Someone other than myself is a genius? Totally unacceptable to me.
- I looked at Dashen's papers carefully and found a gross mistake in his reasoning.
I then published my result in the Physical Review.
Click here for a detailed story.
However, was the American physics community going to accept my result? The answer was No.
The average physicists were not smart enough to understand Dashen's papers or my papers.
Thus, the reaction from the Amrican physics community was
Dashen is a genius, but you are only a Korean.
Go back to Korea!
This was a very valid argument in the United States at that time (1960-70). Korea was
regarded as a hopelessly underdeveloped country. Not knowing the history of that area
earlier than the Pearl Harbor Day of 1941, my American friends used to tell me that
the best solution of the Korean problem is to give the country to Japan.
Sam Treiman and his wife, with my family in 1987. My son was in his quantum
mechanics clas at Princeton during his seior year. This photo was taking during
the reception for graduating seniors and their families.
- Thus, my position at the University was in danger. The only person who could help
me in this difficult situation was Sam Treiman, who was my thesis advisor at Princeton.
I went to Princeton to explain to him the technical details of Dashen's mistake, but he
did not have enough brain to understand my explanations. He became very angry, and his
attitude toward me was "Never come to Princeton again!"
In the meantime, the University of Maryland went through a very careful examination of
my case by contacting all possible experts in the field, and determined that I was right.
This is the reason why I still maintain my office on the University campus, and publish
books and articles with the University address.
The United States has been very nice to me.
- This means that I became alive and well again, but I could not use my
Princeton background through my thesis advisor. Dashen was still a genius there.
However, I could still use my Princeton connection if I change the the name of
my advisor. How was it possible after the graduation?
When I was a student there (1958-61), I noticed that
Eugene Paul Wigner (Nobel 1963) was totally isolated from the
rest of the physics department. The best way was to contact him, but how?
The only way to contact was to tell him the story he wanted to hear. I got
this idea from my piece of Korean wisdom.
What story did I tell Wigner?
- Wigner published many papers, but
his 1939 paper on his little groups was dearest
to his heart. The paper deals with the internal
space-time symmetries of particles in Einstein's Lorentz-covariant world.
He was of course happy with his Nobel prize of 1963, but was not 100-percent happy
because the prize was not for this paper of of 1939. He wanted to hear that this
paper alone deserves one full Nobel prize. This is precisely what I told him in
1986, and I had to give the reason why.
Earlier, after my disappointment with my thesis advisor in 1966, I studied Wigner's
1939 paper on the internal space-time symmetries of particles in Einstein's world.
What does the word internal mean? Click here.
- With my younger colleagues I published my papers in from 1983 to 1986 leading to
E=(m2 + p2)1/2
| E = cp
This portrait was constructed a Turkish physicst named Bullent Atalay in 1979.
- Earlier in 1979, a Turkish physicist named Bulent Atalay constructed this portrait
of Wigner with Einstein. Wigner was so happy with this portrait that he prominently
displayed it in his office.
With the table given above, I was able to tell Wigner that his 1939 paper is as
important as Einstein's special theory of relativity which leads to the formula
E = mc2.
Wigner was so happy that he invited me to publish papers with him, and I wrote
seven papers to make him happy. Since I published those papers with him, I became
known as Wigner's youngest student at Princeton.
Since I became Wigner's student particulary on the Einstein issue, I am able to
the following genealogy to the world.
Paul A. M. Dirac was Wigner's brother-in-law.
Physics faculty photo of the Univ. of Maryland (Spring 1963). I came to this University in
July of 1962, and I am the youngest person in this photo.
- When I came to the University of Maryland in 1962, I was the youngest faculty
member of the physics department. John S. Tall was the ambitious chairman of
the department. He invited Paul A. M. Dirac (Nobel 1933) to the University
for one week, and assigned me as personal assistant to him. My friends
in the department called me the "baby sitter" for him.
- For me, this was the golden opportunity to learn physics directly from him.
Since I was not happy what Princeton people were doing at that time, I was
like Nicodemus listening to Jesus (story from the Gospel of John).
Click here for the detailed story.
- Even though Wigner's sister was Dirac's wife, and Dirac and Wigner met
often, it is not clear whether they ever discussed physics when they were
together. Wigner became very happy when I explained to him what Dirac
did in the language he used in his 1939 paper.
- Neither Dirac nor Wigner was familiar with the experimental results from
high-energy accelerators during the second half of the 20th Century.
It was indeed a rewarding experience for me to offer my explanation of what
we see in the real world in terms of the theoretical devices developed by
these two "famous brothers-in-law."
- Dirac wrote beautifuful sentences and formulas. Indeed, his papers are like
poems. On the other hand, his papers do not have figures. It was fun to
translate his poems into cartoons.
I was able to summarize Dirac's lifetime efforts and synthesize them as
One hundred years ago, Niels Bohr was worrying about the electron orbit of
the hydrogen atom, while Albert Einstein was interested in how things
appear to moving observers. They met occasionally to discuss physics.
Did they talk about moving hydrogen atoms? If they did, there are no
written records to indicate their discussions on this issue. If they
did not, it was because there are no observable hydrogen atoms moving
with relativistic speed.
- If I raise this question, I am not doing any injustice to them.
- The question then is whether this figure has anything to with what
we see in the real world.
The moving hyrogen atom is translated into the moving bound state. After
Gell-Mann's formulation of the quark model in 1964, the proton became
a quantum bound state, just like the hydrogen atom. The proton can
be accelerated, and its speed can become very close to that of light.
How does this fast-moving proton appear in the laboratories?
In 1969, Feynman summuarized how it appears. It is called Feynmna's
The issue then becomes whether Gell-Mann's quark model and Feynman's parton
picture are two different ways to observe the same thing. This question
becomes the same as how Einstein's energy-momentum relation appears for
slow and fast particles. Thus, we are allowed to add an additional row to
the above table. This in the bluse row in the following table.
| E = p2/2m
E=(m2 + p2)1/2
| E = cp
Spin & Gauge
| One Lorentz-
This table was contained in my paper published in Physical Review Letters (1989).
Click here for the paper.
Click here detailed explanations.