Volume 24, Number 2, of the Handbuch der Physik appeared in 1933, full of rich ore that is still being mined. William Hume-Rothery’s The Metallic State came out in 1931, and his seminal The Structure of Metals and Alloys was in manuscript by the end of our first period. A.H.Wilson, R.Peierls, Neville Mott, and many others rapidly advanced the science of the solid state.
I must recount two anecdotes from that period, both with profound implications for the rest of my story. The first concerns Robert Wichert Pohl, the Göttingen giant of experimental solid-state physics. He had borrowed a large diamond from a Berlin bank to measure the Hall effect in photoelectrons. But he, or more likely an assistant, had failed to secure the magnet pole pieces, and when the current was turned on, North and South made instant love at the expense of the brittle diamond. From this experience flowed his concentration on alkali halide crystals.
The second story concerns a very young 1932 graduate of Stanford University, Frederick Seitz. He went to Princeton to do graduate work with E.U.Condon. But Condon, who was then preparing the famous Condon and Shortley Theory of Atomic Spectra, advised him to work with Eugene Wigner instead; Condon remarked, “Solid-state physics is coming, and if you stay with me you’ll just do calculations for my book.”
I need spend little time on the second time constant, since the flowering of understanding and prediction during the period from 1935 to 1960 is well known. Chemistry adopted quantum mechanics with great effectiveness. Metallurgists were beginning to go far beyond their venerable concentration on the austenite-martensite transition. Even geologists were dusting off their hogbacks and cuestas and conducting synthetic mineralogy. Seitz’s The Modern Theory of Solids in 1940 brought understanding to new heights and provided a common language for all workers in materials. William Shockley’s theory of the p-n junction in 1949 and the realization of the junction transistor in 1951 produced immediate visions of a fantastic future for solid-state electronic devices. The complexity of so-called point defects was beginning to be appreciated, and dislocation theory was well advanced. New polymers and new alloys and metals like ductile titanium were being developed.
Thus, by 1960 the stage was set for spectacular advances in materials that would have profound effects on society. Physics was at last bringing something to the party, and metallurgists and chemists needed physicists, if only physicists would rise above their snobbery. Physicists needed chemists and metallurgists, since increasingly sophisticated experiments required detailed knowledge of chemical and physical imperfections and structures. Of even more consequence was the conviction that the design and creation of new materials, such as composites, high-temperature coatings, or catalysts, would require true collaboration among chemists, physicists, and engineers.