Maverick Mathematician

The Life and Science of J.E. Moyal
Authored by:
ISBN (print): 1 920942 58 0
ISBN (online): 1920942 59 9
Publication date: August 2006
Imprint: ANU Press

J.E. Moyal has been pronounced ‘one of Australia’s most remarkable thinkers’. Yet, he was, essentially, a scientific maverick. Educated in a modest high school in Tel Aviv, he took himself to France to train as an engineer, statistician and mathematician and escaped to England as France fell.

It was from outside academia that he entered into communication with the ‘high priest’ of British theoretical physics, P.A.M. Dirac, challenging him with the idea of a statistical basis of quantum mechanics. Their correspondence forms the core of this book and opens up an important and hitherto unknown chapter for physicists, mathematicians and historians of science. Moyal’s classic paper, ‘A statistical basis for quantum mechanics’, also reproduced here in full, has come to underlie an explosion of research and to underpin an array of major technological developments.

Joe Moyal emerges in this small biography as a witty and intrepid character, a scuba diver and wine connoisseur, a generous teacher and researcher, and a man whose academic life-spanning France, Ireland, Britain, the USA and Australia-intersected with some of the leading scientists of the 20th century.

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