Speaker: Bruce R. Wheaton, Technology & Physical Science History Associates, Berkeley, CA
Abstract: IT IS WELL KNOWN that Louis de Broglie received the 1929 Nobel Prize for his audacious proposal six years earlier that atoms possess a wave component. Less well known is his motivation and justification for this concept.
It occurred within the context of the first industrial electronics research laboratory in France, where numerous aspirants learned new techniques to be applied in French industries for process management, product sampling, lubrication studies, and a panoply of new control mechanisms. This Laboratoire francaise des rayons x was created after WWI in the fashionable 8th arrondissement of Paris by Louis' elder brother Maurice.
Of distinctly noble status and possessing immense wealth, Maurice did this strictly as amateur and utilized his noblesse to form the necessary partnerships with recalcitrant French industrialists. But in the process, which led among many things to the first electron microscope intended for study of industrial procedure, Maurice and his student Alexandre Dauvillier rediscovered an enigma in the behavior of x-rays. When x-rays strike matter they release electrons whose velocities can easily be measured. The problem they found was that these velocities were virtually equal to the velocities of the cathode beam that produced the x-rays. As W. H. Bragg put it "it is as if a log falls in the sea, and the waves that result concentrate themselves on another log a thousand miles away sufficient to propel that log up into the air."
To answer this conundrum, "little Louis" appealed to Einstein's theory of relativity and came up with his pilot wave hypothesis of matter in 1923. That it happened in the physics backwater of France owes much to the pragmatic atmosphere in his brother's lab where he could find nobody to test it because they were too busy trying to invent television.