Nicholas Kemmer

Nicholas Kemmer FRS FRSE (7 December 1911 – 21 October 1998) was a Russian-born nuclear physicist working in Britain, who played an integral and leading edge role in United Kingdom's nuclear programme, and was known as a mentor of Abdus Salam – a Nobel laureate in physics.


Early life

Nicholas was born to Nicholas P. Kemmer and his wife Barbara Statzer in Saint Petersburg.[2] His family moved to Germany in 1922, where he was educated at Bismarckschule Hanover and then at the University of Göttingen. He received his doctorate in nuclear physics at the University of Zurich and worked as an assistant to Wolfgang Pauli, who had to give strong arguments in 1936, before being allowed to employ a non-Swiss national.[3] Later on, Kemmer moved to the Beit Fellowship at Imperial College London.

British nuclear development

Kemmer moved to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1940 to work on Tube Alloys, the wartime atomic energy project. In 1940, when Egon Bretscher and Norman Feather showed that a slow neutron reactor fuelled with uranium would in theory produce substantial amounts of plutonium-239 as a by-product, Kemmer (who was lodging at the Bretschers') proposed the names Neptunium for the new element 93 and Plutonium for 94 by analogy with the outer planets Neptune and Pluto beyond Uranus (uranium being element 92). The Americans Edwin M. McMillan and Philip Abelson at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, who had made the same discovery, fortuitously suggested the same names.


Kemmer spent 1944–1946 in Canada. At the University of Edinburgh from 1953 to 1979, he was Tait Professor of Mathematical Physics, creating the Tait Institute of Mathematical Physics in 1955. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1954. His proposers were Norman Feather, Max Born, Sir Edmund Whittaker and Alexander Aitken. He served as the Society's Vice-President from 1971 to 1974.[4]

Kemmer was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1956[1] and won its Hughes Medal in 1966. He was awarded the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize in 1975.[5][6] Nicholas Kemmer was also a mentor and a teacher of the only Pakistani Nobel laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam. Kemmer is credited to trained and work with Salam in Neutron scattering by using relativity equations.

Work and legacy

Nicholas Kemmer Road, King's Buildings

Duffin–Kemmer–Petiau equation

The Duffin–Kemmer–Petiau equation (DKP equation, also called Duffin–Kemmer equation or Kemmer equation) plays a role in the description of the standard model of particles, together with the Yang-Mills field. The Duffin–Kemmer–Petiau equation is closely linked to the Proca equation[7] and the Klein–Gordon equation.[8] The DKP equation suffers the same drawback as the Klein–Gordon equation in that it calls for negative probabilities.[8] The equation involves matrices which obey the Duffin–Kemmer–Petiau algebra. The work leading to the DKP equation, culminating in Kemmer's article,[9] has been quoted as "the first attempt at writing down a satisfactory relativistic theory of elementary particles beyond the electron", and these equations have later been brought in unified form with the Dirac equation by Homi J. Bhabha.[10]


Nicholas Kemmer Road in Edinburgh University's King's Buildings complex is named in his honour.


  1. ^ a b Dyson, F. (2011). "Nicholas Kemmer. 7 December 1911 -- 21 October 1998". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 57: 189–204. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2011.0008.
  2. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X.
  3. ^ Charles P. Enz, Beat Glaus, Gerhard Oberkofler (eds.): Wolfgang Pauli und sein Wirken an der ETH Zürich, vdh Hochschulverlag ETHZ Zürich, 1997, ISBN 3-7281-2317-X, p. 62 (in German language)
  4. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X.
  5. ^ Walter, Claire (1982). Winners, the blue ribbon encyclopedia of awards. Facts on File Inc. p. 438. ISBN 9780871963864.
  6. ^ "J. Robert Oppenheimer Prize awarded to Nicholas Kemmer". Physics Today. American Institute of Physics. 28 (4): 109. April 1975. Bibcode:1975PhT....28d.109.. doi:10.1063/1.3068944.
  7. ^ Sergey Kruglov: Symmetry and electromagnetic interaction of fields with multi-spin. A Volume in Contemporary Fundamental Physics, ISBN 1-56072-880-9, 2000, p. 26
  8. ^ a b Anton Z. Capri: Relativistic quantum mechanics and introduction to quantum field theory, World Scientific, 2002, ISBN 981-238-136-8, p. 25
  9. ^ N. Kemmer: The particle aspect of meson theory, Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 10. November 1939, vol. 173, no. 952, pp. 91–116, doi:10.1098/rspa.1939.0131
  10. ^ Animesh Datta: High-spin field theories and relativistic quantum mechanics of bosons, In Emerson D. Seifer (ed.): Bosons, ferromagnetism and crystal growth research, pp. 119–150, Nova Science Publishers, 2006, ISBN 978-1-60021-367-0, p. 122

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