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Pilgrims' progress in search of the fundamental constants

DuMond, Jesse W. M. (1965) Pilgrims' progress in search of the fundamental constants. Physics Today, 18 (10). pp. 26-43. ISSN 0031-9228. doi:10.1063/1.3046944.

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The practice of making broadly inclusive surveys, from time to time, of the status of our knowledge of the fundamental constants of physics and chemistry may be said to have started with a famous paper by Raymond T. Birge, of Berkeley, published in Reviews of Modem Physics in 1929. To Professor Birge, also, is due the credit for being the first, as far as I know, to apply the method of least squares in order to determine most probable values of three of the constants; e, the electronic charge m, the electron rest mass; and h, Planck's constant, using a highly overdetermined set of experimental data on functions of these three quantities. The fundamental constants of nature are so interrelated that a measurement affecting one affects them all. The author became interested when Millikan's oil‐drop value of the electron charge was different from the value given by x‐ray determination of crystal spacings. To assist in finding the true values, he invented a method for plotting various functions of the constants in a space of as many coordinates as there are constants. If all measurements are consistent, the plotted functions intersect in a point. When they do not intersect, one examines standard deviations, which correspond to thicknesses of surfaces, in an effort to find out what is wrong. In three decades, searches of this kind have reduced uncertainties in the constants from a fraction of a percent to, at most, tens of parts per million.

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Additional Information:© 1965 American Institute of Physics.
Issue or Number:10
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20140621-114904849
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:46411
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:23 Jun 2014 15:46
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 17:25

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