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|Curiouser and Curiouser
Prof. Robert W. Cahn
My theme today is temporal coincidence in discovery and publication. In writing a historical overview of materials science,
I found again and again that discoveries tend to be "in the air" and more than one person takes the crucial step
at the same time. Here are some specific examples: and so on.....
The most remarkable episode of simultaneity that I know of concerns Charles Frank of Bristol, England, (the same man who proposed growth spirals on
crystals) and Thornton Read of Bell Labs, and it concerns what came
to be called the Frank-Read dislocation source. Frank often visited America in the 1950s; one of his first visits was in
1950. He was supposed to lecture at Cornell University. Arriving early, he was shunted off to amuse himself for a couple
of hours in the afternoon while the faculty attended a meeting (an incurable addiction of faculty!). Frank was obsessed
at the time by the problem of how multiple dislocations could be generated by a single "source"...a length of
dislocation in a network. As he walked around the Cornell campus that afternoon, between 3 and 5, he suddenly saw an analogy
between his problem and the spiralling behavior of a dislocation during crystal growth, and the concept of a source that
could generate repeated dislocation loops was born.
The next day, Frank travelled to Pittsburgh and was introduced to Thornton Read who was attending the same conference
on crystal plasticity. To quote Frank's own words many years afterwards at a symposium on the history of solid-state physics
(F.C. Frank, Proceedings of the Royal Society (London)
371, p. 136, 1980): "John Fisher brought Thornton Read [to a hotel lobby]. Thornton, as soon as he was introduced
to me, said "Frank, there is something I want to tell you" and John Fisher replied, "Frank has something
to tell you." So we started talking and we found that we were telling each other what was in all basic principles the
same. So I said, "When did you think of that?" and he said, "When I was drinking my tea last Wednesday afternoon
about 4 o'clock." I said, "I was walking on the Cornell campus from 3 till 5." Thornton Read said, [the paper
has 'John Fisher said,' but that was plainly a typo] "There is only one solution to that, you and I must write a joint
publication" (Frank and Read, Philosophical
Magazine, 79, p. 722 (1950)).
Robert W. Cahn
(Prof. Cahn, FRS,
is was with the University of Cambridge. He can be reached at email@example.com
in Mat. Sci. & Eng. heaven.