Who was the Bringer of the Lines from Pauli?

Part of the entertainment at last night’s Physics & Astronomy Ball was a marvellously entertaining and informative after-dinner speech by particle physicist David Wark. David had to leave before the evening ended in order to get a taxi to Heathrow and thence a flight to Japan, so he missed out on the dancing and general merriment. I may get time tomorrow to write a bit more about the Ball itself, including the fact that I received an award from the students! For the time being, though, I’ll just pass on a fascinating snippet that David Wark, an expert on neutrinos, mentioned in his speech.

It is well known that the neutrino was first postulated by Wolfgang Pauli in 1930 to account measurements that suggested that energy and momentum were not conserved in beta decay. What is perhaps less well known – it was certainly new to me until I heard about it last night – is that Pauli’s proposal is described in famous letter, addressed rather charmingly to “Radioactive Ladies and Gentlemen” of Tübingen from his base the ETH in Zürich. Part of the letter is reproduced here:


The opening phrases of the letter “Wie der überbringer dieser Zeilen den ich huldvollst anzuhören bitte…” is a polite request that the recipient(s) listen to the “bearer of these lines”. Presumably, Pauli being unable to visit Tübingen himself, he sent someone else along with the letter and that person gave some sort of seminar or informal presentation of the idea.

The mystery is that despite the obvious importance of this episode for the history of physics, nobody seems to know who the “bearer of the lines” from Pauli actually was. In his speech David Wark said he had been trying for 15 years to identify the individual, without success.

Anyone out there in Internetshire got any ideas?

5 Responses to “Who was the Bringer of the Lines from Pauli?”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    It’s actually addressed to the radioactive ladies and gentlemen at Tubingen, from Pauli in Zurich. The letter goes on to say that he (like you recently, Peter) had to be at a ball, and could not visit Tubingen in person. The full letter and an English translation are here:


    So who conveyed the letter and gave the talk? We’d start by seeing who was on the staff of Pauli’s lab in Zurich and whom he trusted. I’m sure that David Wark has got that far at least.

    • telescoper Says:

      Oops! Thanks for that. I have now corrected the error. David said in last night he had asked people from Zurich about it and none of them knew the answer, but surely there must be a record somewhere…

  2. I adore Pauli’s old letters.

    My favourite of his letters is from a time Heisenberg and Pauli were working on a unified theory. Heisenberg had made a comment to a journalist on the radio that they had essentially finished the work, and “only the technical details are missing”. Pauli wrote to Gamov in frustration:

    “This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing.”

    He illustrated it with an empty rectangle.

    Click to access gamov_0100-52.pdf

  3. telescoper Says:

    Tübingen or not Tübingen, that is the question.

    Would Tuebingen do?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: