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A collection of video and audio digitised recordings of noteworthy people and events, mostly with a Manchester connection.


E Rutherford: 1931 Lecture at Goettingen

1931 Rutherford lecture

Goettingen Lecture by Ernest Rutherford, 14th Dec 1931 on the occasion of the award of an honorary degree (see left). The first voice is that of the Introducer, the Dean of the Faculty, Max Born. There are many typical Rutherford sound-bites (see below).

The recording was made by Professor Robert Wichard Pohl on floppy disks with a capacity of about 4 to 5 minutes. The is a gap in between each disk since even Professor Pohl could not ask a Lord to pause while he changed disks.

I haven't identified all the questioners at the end yet.

Duration 43:48

File size 42 MB

Telefunken disk

Sound bites:

Ern: We must look for simplicity in the system first. . . . I am always a believer in simplicity, being a simple person myself.

Ern, on beta decay: “The beta particle seems to have an extraordinary power of exciting the resulting atom. It's remarkable, the mere expulsion of an electron, doesn't seems to count very little, should set the nucleus vibrating like a piano when you tumble it down stairs.

Ern: “You can't know anything about that nucleus. We know it's got 50 alpha particles, a whole lot of electrons and an odd proton or two. (Steady on Ern, who told you that? OK OK, neutron not yet discovered.)

Born: “Would you like that we have a discussion, Lord Rutherford?

Ern: “Well, erm, erm, it's a question of whether your dinner is more important than the discussion.

Born: “If you turn it this way, I can't help to say, of course the discussion is much more important.

Robert Wichard Pohl

Everyone just says “The recording was made by Professor Pohl."

I wish to say more than that. The recording was made by Professor Robert Wichard Pohl, a physicist in the Goettingen physics department. Robert Pohl was born in Hamburg in 1884, the son of a ship engineer. He was no mean physicist himself. He spent Christmas 1922 marrying Tussa Madelung (such a superb name), she being the sister of physicist Erwin Madelung, who is remembered for his constant. Their son Robert Otto Pohl became a professor of physics at Cornell.

Robert Pohl is on the right in this 1923 photograph and Max Born is second from the left. The other two are Max Reich on the left and James Franck standing between Born and Pohl. Already in 1923, Born and Pohl were among Die Bonzen in Goettingen; the bigwigs.


Technical details. This digitisation was made off the 74 rpm set of brittle disks published and sold by HMV. For this digitisation, they were played at 78 rpm using a lightweight modern stylus, with the rpm controlled by strobe. They were then digitally corrected to the nominal recorded speed of 74 rpm. There are other renderings of this lecture throughout the internet, but every recording I have listened to fails to make the 74 –> 78 correction and all the voices are rendered at too high a pitch. The set of records from which this digitisation was made, was originally owned by Jimmy Nuttall (Geiger-Nuttall law) who clearly played disk 1 a lot, disk 2 not quite as often and disk 4 and the rest, hardly at all. After being played too often by one of those vicious 1930s needles, disk 1 had become “worn” and so the surface noise has been removed using a filter which also degrades the speech slightly. Disk 4 et seq are very good. Disk 3 is missing off this recording because I did not have access to the Telefunken disk. The digital master is an AIFF file. I could have mastered it at 32 bit, 96kHz, but there was no point, given the original quality. I claim that my digitisation and this mp3 rendering are audibly indistinguishable from the originl floppy disk recording obtained using an amateur 1931 microphone; unless you can prove otherwise.

There is an occasional rumbling sound, like thunder. Those who have never given nor attended a lecture in Germany, might be unaware that instead of clapping, German academics rap their knuckles on the bench in front of them. There were 400 at this lecture and the thunder is the sound of 400 knuckles on wood. 700 tried to get into the Aula but there were only 400 seats, otherwise the thunder would have been louder.

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