GOING PLACES ON HOME GROUND
PAUL DIRAC, who died in November 1984, was known to the world as the developer of the mathematics of quantum mechanical theory—the physics of the smallest part of the atom. He received his initial education, however, not in the field of mathematics, but in electrical engineering. Though he obtained a first-class degree at the Merchant Venturers Technical College, he did not excel. As J.G. Crowther wrote in his obituary: “His teachers did not consider him a genius.” (The Muslim, Islamabad, November 23, 1984).
He entered the mathematics department of Bristol University and went on to St. John’s College to continue his studies in the same field. It was here that “it was perceived that he had extraordinary intellectual powers.”
Failure in one field is no reason to lose hope: there is always another field awaiting you,
in which the flower of one’s destiny can flourish and thrive.
In the field of mathematics, Dirac was on home-ground. His success as a physical mathematician was phenomenal. He made fundamental contributions to quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. Following Werner Heisenberg’s publication of the idea of a new quantum mechanics in 1925, Dirac independently went to work on creating an appropriate new mathematics for handling it. Among other discoveries, he formulated the Dirac equation as a relativistic equation for the wave function of the electron. In 1930 he published his textbook Principles of Quantum Mechanics, which immediately became a classic. In 1932, at the incredibly early age of 30, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the chair Sir Isaac Newton had once occupied—a fitting post for one whom Niels Bohr called “the most remarkable scientific mind since Newton.”
Dirac was not successful in electrical engineering, but when he entered his own domain—mathematics—he thrived and showed amazingly innovative genius.
Like Dirac, everyone has a domain of their own to excel in. Failure in one field is no reason to lose hope: there is always another field awaiting one, in which the flower of one’s destiny can flourish and thrive. o