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Tue, October 9, 2012
Brian Josephson Debates John Bardeen. Mathematics versus intuition, the vitality of youth versus prestige and maturity; that was the essence of the spectacle of the debate between the graduate student and the Nobel Laureate when Josephson and Bardeen faced-off in London in 1962. Josephson was fascinated by the reality of the phase in the wavefunction of superconductivity, as demonstrated by magnetic flux quantization; could there be other manifestations of the phase? He was intrigued by a Cohen, Falicov, and Phillips paper on tunneling theory and quickly set about applying it to superconductors. At the time the prevailing view in his laboratory, as expressed by his graduate adviser Brian Pippard, was that a single electron had a low probability of tunneling; thus two electrons tunneling simultaneously would be rare indeed. Surprisingly, Josephson's mathematics told him otherwise. Bardeen argued that the math was wrong. Shortly thereafter, experiments by Philip Anderson and John Rowell decided the issue in favor of Josephson; for tunneling, mathematics beat intuition.