November 22, 1926
Dear Dr. Noyes:
We were greatly pleased to receive your letter; but were sorry to learn that
you had been worried over the delay in writing, for it was not a matter of sufficient
importance to warrant its troubling you.
The amount of thought and effort that you have devoted to my ion-attraction paper
has taught me a valuable lesson, for I shall attempt in the future to show in my work
as much as possible of the care which characterizes yours. There is a difficulty at
the point where I introduce this correction; even though Zwicky does not see it. The
point is, however, a different one, and my treatment is rather physical and intuitive
than mathematical and rigorous; so it is not surprising that Dr. Bateman probably
did not understand it. Dr. Tolman has expressed the justified criticism that I have
changed the physical picture underlying the mathematical treatment in order to introduce
this correction, so that I am using the results of two idealizations. This is exactly
the reason that has led me now to believe that probably the paper should not be published;
for although I still think that my correction is partially justified by the (very
complicated) arguments which I have given to support it, I am at present unable to
satisfactorily combat Dr. Tolman’s argument, and I have come to believe that even
though I believe it to be correct, it should not be published as long as I am unable
to defend it against significant adverse criticism. I believe that I have a good physical
sense, which enabled me to introduce this criticism; but I have learned that errors
may be made with the cooperation of the physical sense, and so there is a possibility
(which seems slight to me) that my second order correction may be inexact, or even
in great error. I had not intended that my calculations be actually applied in the
interpretation of experimental data, for I think them not sufficiently accurate; but
rather to illustrate the limitations of the Debye theory and its extensions (introduction
of variation of dielectric constant, etc). for my discussion shows (to me at east)
that all of the refined applications of the theory are unjustified.
I do not think the first correction alone is worth publication. I shall not,
of course, publish the paper so long as I can not convince you of its value. It is
probable that on my return to Pasadena I should never be able to prove to Dr. Tolman
and Zwicky that my treatment in its present form is justified. Accordingly I wish
you to keep the manuscript, and not to spend on it any more of your valuable time.
Possibly I shall be able some day to present a satisfactorily discussion of the problem,
or to put my present treatment into a justifiable form, possibly in which my approximations
with their physical (or intuitive) substantiation are given a more mathematical form,
so that their justification and applicability can be more clearly seen (by the mathematicians).
I have progressed considerably since that work was done (in the second year of my
scientific incarnation), and probably now I would not make the effort to further complicate
a complicated field. Since I shall now not be able to thank you in print, I take this
occasion to express my appreciation of your continued assistance and advice in this
We were most glad to learn of the Travel-Prize candidates, and to know that we
can hope to see perhaps four of them here. I enjoyed very much my year with these
I’m sorry Kirkpatrick didn’t finish K=N:(NO2)6, for I’d like to know the
explanation of the anomalies. But I can hardly expect everyone to be interested I
the problems which interest me.
My plans for the summer are unsettled; perhaps it will be worth while to visit
both Copenhagen and Zurich, for reasonably long periods, with shorter stays in other
places. Professor Victor Henri has just been here, delivering two lectures on his
study of molecules such as H2CO with band spectral methods. He is going to America
in February for about two months, and expects to go to Berkeley (after four weeks
at MIT), which is not far from Pasadena. He has a peculiar voice, which makes him
sound as though he had a bad cold. We met him in Zurich in June, also.
Professor KT Compton spent a week here; he is a fine man. He and his wife brought
their two children along- my respect for my wife’s good sense has been steadily rising,
for I argued strongly against leaving the baby. He ordered twenty-five models from
Selmayr, who is kept busy now. I shall have about fifty forty made for Gates, unless
you write that is too many; they will average about $2.50 apiece, I think, with 33%
duty, and about 20% shipping costs. The models are not nearly so large as the others
we have, and they are beautifully and accurately made.
I thank you for the advice regarding foreign publication. I’m enclosing proof
sheets of a paper I sent to the Zeitschrift für Physik, because of its similarity
to Wentzel’s paper, a mistake in which it corrects. This paper received, so far as
I know, the usual treatment- thus I submitted it myself to the editor, under my own
name, but mentioning Professor Sommerfeld. It is now less than a month, and it will
appear in the next issue of the journal. I think that there is something to be said
for fast publication; it is at least pleasing to the author.
I am now working on the prediction of the physical properties of atoms and monatomic
ions. I intend sending this paper to the Physical Review.
This semester I am devoting my time mainly to research. Further than that, I
attend Sommerfeld’s lectures two hours a week, in which he is presenting the new wave
mechanics systematically, and two seminars. I have not thought it worth while to hear
Sommerfelds lectures on mechanics, nor Fajaus rather elementary atomic structure lectures
(for chemists) and seminars. There is now one other American with Professor Sommerfeld,
an experimental physicist from Columbia.
I have just decided that I may have been using j instead of j+1 in my equations,
and I must look to see.