2023 Impact factor 2.6
Special Topics

EPJ H Highlight - The importance of the 1949 Florence conference “StatPhys I” to physics

Top of attendance sheet of the International Congress on Statistical Mechanics, 17-20 May, 1949

The first international conference devoted to statistical mechanics was also of great importance to scientific reconstruction in post-war Italy.

International science conferences are now a fixture in the calendar of most scientists. These face-to-face meetings allow researchers to gather and exchange the latest information, thus maintaining the scientific culture of the relevant disciplines by emphasising that no one researcher is an island.

Statistical physics, or statistical mechanics as it was once known, is the branch of physics that deals with the application of statistics to large systems, usually groups of particles. It, too, has its own international conferences, the origin of which goes back to the 17th to the 20th of May 1949 when around 70 physicists from eight countries met in Florence, Italy. This conference would later come to be regarded as “StatPhys I” with StatPhys referring to International Conferences on Statistical Physics, the series of conferences organised by the IUPAP.

A new paper published in the journal EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics discusses the importance of the 1949 statistical mechanics conference not just for physics but also for Italy’s post-war reemergence. The paper is authored by Roberto Lalli, Assistant Professor at the Polytechnic University of Turin and Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and Paolo Politi, of the Florence Unit of the Institute for Complex Systems, who teaches statistical physics at the University of Florence.


EPJ H Highlight - Tracing the history of perturbative expansion in quantum field theory

Perturbative expansions enabled the development of the Standard Model. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/ wikipedia/commons/0/00/Standard_ Model_of_Elementary_Particles.svg

Contrary to long-standing assumptions, simplified descriptions of quantum systems have played a central role in shaping the foundations of quantum field theory.

Perturbative expansion is a valuable mathematical technique which is widely used to break down descriptions of complex quantum systems into simpler, more manageable parts. Perhaps most importantly, it has enabled the development of quantum field theory (QFT): a theoretical framework which combines principles from classical, quantum, and relativistic physics, and serves as the foundation of the Standard Model of particle physics.

Yet despite its importance in shaping our understanding of the universe, the role of perturbative expansion has often been understated when discussing the mathematical and philosophical foundations of QFT. Through new analysis published in EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics, James Fraser at the University of Wuppertal, together with Kasia Rejzner at the University of York, bring the special status of perturbative expansions into sharper focus, by highlighting their deep-rooted relationship with the foundations of QFT.


EPJ H Highlight - Quantum Gravity, Effective Field Theory, and Strings


A historical overview of different approaches to the quantum theory of gravitation from the early twentieth century shows how they have been combined to set our modern view of a unified ‘theory of everything’.

Gravity is one of four fundamental interactions. The most precise description of this force is still provided by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, published in 1915, an entirely classical theory. This description sets gravity apart from the other three forces - strong, weak, and electromagnetism - all described by quantum fields. Therefore, any attempt to unify the four forces must depend on a description of gravity that uses the principles of quantum mechanics. This has been an active area of theoretical physics since the 1930s. A historian and a physicist, Alessio Rocci from VUB in Brussels and Thomas Van Riet from KU Leuven in Belgium have set out a historical overview of the development of quantum theories of gravity to explain our current view on a future unified theory of the four forces. This work has now been published in the journal EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics.


EPJ H Highlight - The Quark Model: A Personal Perspective

George Zweig—father of the ‘Concrete Quark Model’. Photo courtesy G Zweig

The properties of hadrons - both protons and neutrons, and heavier short-lived particles - are explained by the quark model. This was introduced by André Petermann (whose 1963 paper, in French, went unnoticed for 50 years); Murray Gell-Mann (whose insistence that they are purely mathematical entities discouraged take-up of the idea); and George Zweig.

The idea that protons and neutrons were composed of even smaller particles, with non-integral electric charges, was proposed in 1963/64 by Andre Petermann, George Zweig and Murray Gell-Mann, who dubbed them ‘quarks’. It was not until the mid-1970s, however, that the quark model became widely accepted. Chris Llewellyn Smith, now an emeritus professor at the University of Oxford and formerly the Director-General of CERN who put together the proposal to build the Large Hadron Collider, has published a ‘personal perspective’ on the development of the quark model and of the theory of the force that holds them together (quantum chromodynamics or QCD) in EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics. He had a ringside seat as a student in theoretical particle physics at Oxford from 1964-7, as a post-doctoral Fellow at CERN and at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center where experiments that confirmed the reality of quarks were performed.


EPJ H Highlight - Acquitting a Physicist Accused of “Obscurantism”

David Bohm (1917-1992) contributed an innovative interpretation of quantum theory. Credit: Unknown photographer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_ Bohm#/media/File:David_Bohm.jpg

A reanalysis of letters and publications show that David Bohm’s contemptuous contemporaries were misinformed and politically driven.

American-born British theoretical physicist David Bohm made many significant contributions to physics. But he’s most famous for challenging convention and interpreting quantum mechanics in terms of nonlocal or hidden variables. Several eminent contemporaries accused him of defending outdated ideals based in deterministic physics, rather than embracing his contemporaries’ non-deterministic views. In a study published in EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics, Andrea Oldofredi, of the University of Lisbon, Portugal, revisits Bohm’s private correspondences and academic works to reconstruct the evolution of his philosophical trajectory. The analysis indicates that bias against Bohm was mostly not based on scientific grounds, and instead underlines the originality of his ontological reflections.


EPJ H Highlight – Would Matrix Mechanics Win Recognition Today?

Max Born formulated the matrix mechanics interpretation of quantum theory. Public domain: https://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Max_Born.jpg

A re-evaluation of contributions to the development of quantum mechanics suggests that a belated Nobel Prize was a product of its times.

Albert Einstein, best known for his work in relativity, won the Nobel Prize for his formula for the photoelectric effect, which often surprises modern physicists. He’s not the only physicist whose Nobel award misaligns with the winner's modern claim-to-fame. In a study published in EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics, John Heilbron of the University of California, Berkeley, USA, and Carlo Rovelli of Western Ontario University, Canada, analyze why the Nobel Prize in 1954 recognized Max Born’s interpretation of the quantum mechanical wave function, while ignoring his leadership in the development of matrix mechanics. The researchers conclude that assessments made by historical actors can serve as a barometer of the changing consensus of interpretations of quantum mechanics.


EPJ H Highlight - Is the end of the “particle era” of physics upon us?

The completed standard model of particle physics. What shape will physics beyond this model take? Credit: Daniel Dominguez/CERN

New research looks at the potential for new discoveries in particle physics

The discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 represented a major turning point for particle physics marking the completion of what is known as the standard model of particle physics. Yet, the standard model can’t answer every question in physics, thus, since this discovery at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) physicists have searched for physics beyond the standard model and to determine what shape future physics will take.

A new paper in EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics by Robert Harlander and Jean-Philippe Martinez of the Institute for Theoretical Particle Physics and Cosmology, RWTH Aachen University, Germany, and Gregor Schiemann from the Faculty of Humanities and Cultural Studies, Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany, considers the idea that particle physics may be on the verge of a new era of discovery and understanding in particle physics. The paper also considers the implications of the many possible scenarios for the future of high-energy physics.


EPJ H Highlight - Quarks and gluons: The JADE experiment at DESY

Illustration of an electron-positron annihilation event recorded with the JADE detector. The emergence of a separate, third “jet” of particle tracks from the central annihilation point was the first indicator for the existence of gluons. Credit: DESY.

A new paper in EPJ H describes the JADE experiment at DESY in Hamburg, in which high-energy electron-positron collisions led to the discovery of the particle that holds quarks together to form protons and neutrons: the gluon.

The DESY research centre in Hamburg has been at the centre of German physical science research since the 1960s, leading to important discoveries about the fundamental structure of matter. One experiment at DESY, known as JADE, recorded data on electron-positron collisions between 1979 and 1986. Siggi Bethke from the Max Planck Institute of Physics in Munich and Albrecht Wagner from DESY have now reviewed the history of JADE in the journal EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics.


EPJ H Highlight - Mid-twentieth-century physics in the home of Galileo

Credit: Department of Physics and Astronomy, Scientific and Technological Hub, University of Florence.

Breakthroughs made at the Institute of Physics near Florence before 1950 include Fermi statistics and the first electronic coincidence circuits

Florence was a flourishing centre for fundamental physics research throughout most of the twentieth century. Roberto Casalbuoni, Daniele Dominici and Massimo Mazzoni – all physicists currently working there – have reviewed the history of the city’s Institute of Physics for the journal EPJ H: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics, concentrating on the important decades of the 1920s to 1960s.


EPJ H Editor Jürgen Renn receives 2023 Abraham Pais Prize for History of Physics

Prof. Jürgen Renn

The prestigious Abraham Pais Prize for History of Physics, awarded each year by the American Physical Society, recognizes outstanding scholarly achievements in the history of physics. Professor Jürgen Renn, Editor of EPJH: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary Physics and Archive for History of Exact Sciences receives the 2023 Abraham Pais Prize for History of Physics "for contributions to the historiography of modern and early modern science, in particular, studies of Albert Einstein; and for contributing scholarship and taking public stances that directly raise the social relevance of science historiography."


Managing Editors
Sandrine Karpe and Vijala Kiruvanayagam (EDP Sciences) and Sabine Lehr (Springer-Verlag)
Dear Sabine, Sandrine, and Nicolas, your professional and efficient management supported our editing tasks enormously and made the whole process smooth and pleasant. The web-based SAGA system was very helpful for handling the workflow. Thank you all for your high commitment!

Jan Freund, ICBM, University of Oldenburg, Germany

ISSN: 1951-6355 (Print Edition)
ISSN: 1951-6401 (Electronic Edition)

© EDP Sciences and Springer-Verlag