Jeremy Bernstein is a theoretical physicist and the author, most recently, of A Bouquet of Numbers and Other Scientific Offerings, a collection of essays.
 (December 2016).


Great Scientists Against Terrible Odds

Physics in a Mad World

edited by M. Shifman and translated from the Russian by James Manteith
In the 1930s German and Russian scientists of Jewish origin were treated quite differently. The German scientists were automatically “guilty” if they had more than one eighth Jewish “blood.” In Russia they had to be guilty of doing something. Until October 1941 Jews were encouraged to leave Germany and most …


An Inconvenient New Neutrino?

Engineers working on a neutrino detector in Soudan, Minnesota, for an experiment conducted by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago, Illinois, 2001

When the particle known as the muon was discovered, in 1936, the then-future Nobel laureate I.I. Rabi famously asked, “Who ordered that?” The Standard Model is a tight mathematical structure, with a specific symmetry; it likes things in threes and simply does not allow for another, fourth neutrino. If these results from MiniBooNE prove correct, then, it will once again show just how odd neutrinos are. But as the Italians say, Se non è vero, è ben trovato. Even if it’s not true, it’s a good story.

If Trump Blows Up the Deal, Iran Gets the Bomb

Donald Trump speaking at a protest in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 9, 2015

The IAEA has certified that—some minor violations aside—the Iranians have implemented the agreement. What happens if there is no agreement? The IAEA inspectors would leave the country and the program would restart at full bore. Most experts estimate that it would be a matter of months before the Iranians built their first bomb. The notion that President Trump has of somehow getting a “better deal” is delusional. There is no better deal. The Iranians have everything they need to make nuclear weapons—including uranium. The JCPOA is our best, and perhaps our only, chance of preventing Iran from getting the bomb.

Which Countries Will Get the Bomb?

Scientists inspecting Iraq’s first nuclear reactor in Baghdad, supplied by the Soviets, February 1968

The US now has a president-elect who has openly suggested that our allies take responsibility for their own nuclear deterrence. If, say, South Korea or Saudi Arabia began to pursue a bomb, how likely might they be to succeed? History offers us a number of insights about this. Among the countries that succeeded were Israel and South Africa and among those that didn’t were Libya and Iraq.