After the recent news that Lisa Randall is writing the libretto for an opera, there’s further evidence that particle theorists in Cambridge are moving in the direction of creative writing. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a feature article about various people’s plans for 2009. One of these is Frank Wilczek, who writes:
I’m writing a physics murder mystery. The idea is that two men and two women from Harvard and MIT collaborate and discover dark matter. It’s clear that they should win a Nobel Prize, but according to the rules of the prize, only three people at most can share.
This is an entertaining idea for a plot, and perhaps it has some personal resonance with Wilczek. For much of his career, he was well-known to be one of the people responsible for a definitely Nobel-prize caliber discovery, but he did not have a Nobel prize. By some counts, there were four people (Gross, Politzer, ‘t Hooft, Wilczek) who had a hand in the discovery of asymptotic freedom back in 1973. It was only with the award of a Nobel for related work to ‘t Hooft and Veltman in 1999 that the numerical obstruction to an asymptotic freedom award was removed, with the award going to the other three in 2004. Over this quarter century or so, surely it did not occur to any of the four that it might not be an entirely bad thing if one of them didn’t live to a ripe old age….
Next month I’ll be spending a week or so in Paris, partly for vacation, partly to attend a conference about Grothendieck’s mathematical legacy, to be held at the IHES, a place I’ve never before visited. There’s a murder mystery about the IHES that I’ve heard about but haven’t yet read, so I hope to get a copy in France. The author is Nicole Gaume, who worked for the IHES director, and was forced out when a new director (Marcel Berger) came on the scene. Under the pen-name Margot Bruyère she wrote a roman à clef featuring the mathematicians of the IHES and the murder of a new director. The book first came out under the title Dis-moi qui tu aimes (je te dirai qui tu hais), but was republished in 2002 under the new title Maths à mort. For more information about the book, see here.
Update: I just noticed that Wilczek has posted on his web-site an essay about Hermann Weyl’s Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science that will be the introduction to a new edition of the book appearing next year.