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Fritz and Hans: an attempt at phenomenological understanding

This is a title of my contribution to the last Kavli Newsletter. I’ve written it a while ago and almost forgotten about, yet Huub Salemink was as kind as to remind me today. Here it goes:

The immediate motive to write this column is evident: J.E. Mooij was awarded the Fritz London prize. And though he has to wait for half a year to get his hands on it, we are all glad, consider it as our common achievement, and congratulate him from the depth of our common heart. Yet here I’d like to attempt a deeper study that, for the absence of exact microscopic theory, is bound to be phenomenological. By virtue of this approach, I have to disregard any personal detail however important it might seem.

The phenomenon of Fritz London is evident and lies within penetration depth. Foreign experience cannot be underestimated: it took only a year for this 1933 refugee to come up with a seminal theoretical contribution to superconductivity theory, long before this theory came into existence. It was a gem of phenomenology and implied a professorship. But how could an émigré penetrate the hearts of Duke colleagues so deeply as to make Fritz into a prize? When John Bardeen got this prize he did not hide it in his pocket; after a while, he returned back an amount 10 times greater to the prize fund, and that was no grant money. While we do not know what attracted him that strongly, it is well established that superconductivity, and thus research thereupon, requires attractive interactions.

The phenomenon of Hans Mooij is perhaps more complicated and certainly less explored. Why would a successful Shell employee run back to science? And if really looking for science, why would he run to a place where leading professors were not burdened with Ph.D. titles and published only once every two years in a local journal? And, if adjusted to such an environment, why work persistently at changing it into a Nature-publishing collective where almost any Ph.D. is a professor? Why, upon coining your own scientific reputation, would you care about, promote, and defend the research in fields so different from your own? Being successful in all that, why still look for new topics to investigate? Well, it is clear that the usual assumption of local, or contact, attractive interaction does not work here. The interaction must be global and arise from a kind of unbroken symmetry where your individual research and success is equivalent to those of others.

I wonder if we can comprehend this unusual symmetry in more exact terms. Actually, I do not care if we cannot. The point would be to accept its existence at the phenomenological level, understand the possible (and perhaps impossible) experimental consequences, and utilize the phenomenon.

The author is indebted to J. E. Mooij for numerous manifestations.

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