I remember the night the Green–Schwarz mechanism was discovered — It was a stormy summer night in 1984. The lightning that flashed across the equations on the blackboard also flashed across my curtains, two oranges on the dining room table, a Pat Metheny album on the blue shag carpet. I, too, thought I had solved something. I, too, thought I was free of anomalies. But the next day I still couldn’t figure it out.
To smash the simple atom All mankind was intent. Now any day The atom may Return the compliment.
John Sapiro and I began our email correspondence about this little poem and the history of the atomic age a few months ago, before the early August anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but amidst the early chaos of the pandemic. It seemed almost ridiculous to be talking about yet another threat to worldwide health, peace, and humanity — and yet, it was the mood of the day. I couldn’t find an exact date for Ethel Jacobson’s poem, although it is in a book I have that has a copyright date of 1952. And so our conversation centered mostly around the cold war of the 1950s and 60s but veered around widely. We talked about the physicist Richard Feynman and his…