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[Byers, Nina] Feld, Bernard T.

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

  • First edition, first printing. Presentation copy inscribed by the author, a leading physicist and nuclear disarmament activist, to pioneering female physicist Nina Byers on the front free endpaper, "To Nina - with regards, Bernard. 11/79". With Byers’s signed Somerville College bookplate on the front pastedown.

    The author of this volume, Bernard T. Feld, was a graduate student under the supervision of Enrico Fermi and Isador Rabi and part of the Manhattan Project team that achieved the first controlled nuclear chain reaction in 1942. He went on to work at Oak Ridge and then Los Alamos, but his dismay at the results of the project converted him into an anti-weapons activist. As he would write later in life, “Having been involved in the original sin, I've spent the rest of my life trying to atone for it”.

    Immediately after the war Feld joined other scientists in lobbying against military control of nuclear weapons, resulting in the creation of the Atomic Energy Agency. He was also “vice-president of the Federation of American Scientists, one of the first groups dedicated to controlling nuclear weapons” as well as “a member of the editorial board of the journal Disarmament and Arms Control, and editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin printed the ‘doomsday clock,’ a symbolic representation of how close the world was, in the magazine's opinion, to nuclear war… He was a prolific writer of essays, letters to newspapers and magazine articles, criticizing governments for not doing more to reduce nuclear stockpiles. He was especially proud, according to colleagues, to be on President Richard Nixon's ‘enemies list’ (MIT obituary). In addition to his political work, Feld was a Guggenheim Fellow and founding editor of the Annals of Physics, held a number of prestigious teaching posts at MIT and other universities, and made important contributions to the development of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator.

    The recipient of this copy, Nina Byers, was a committed anti-nuclear activist, and that is probably how she and Feld knew each other (if not through their work as physicists).

    Byers received her bachelors in physics at Berkeley and then studied under Murray Gell-Mann and Gregor Wenzl at Chicago, completing her thesis on pi-mesic atoms in 1956. In 1961 she joined the faculty at UCLA where she worked on particle physics as “the first and the only female in the Physics department for 20 years” (Los Angeles Times obituary). Byers remained at UCLA for the rest of her career, through for several years she split her time between Los Angeles and the UK when she was appointed the first female physics lecturer at Oxford (at Somerville College, illustrated on her bookplate in this volume).

    During the 1970s and 80s Byers and her students were engaged in cutting edge research on areas such as gauge theories of the electroweak interactions, quarkonium, and bound state systems (UCLA Physics & Astronomy department obituary). At the same time she was deeply involved with the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Nina served as President of the APS Forum on History of Physics, a position earned through her dedication to promoting the understanding of two weighty subjects: the role of women in physics, and the examination of physicists’ role in the development and deployment of nuclear weapons” (UCLA obituary). Byers was “politically aware, advocating against nuclear weapon proliferation for over six decades, and a staunch anti-war activist. She also supported many social justice and environmental causes” (Los Angeles Times obituary).

    This volume contains 58 of Feld’s essays, letters, book reviews, and lectures, including a number of previously unpublished works. The topics include arms control, atomic energy and environmentalism, and the role of scientists in politics. A wonderful association linking two scientists who were both leaders in one of the most significant policy debates of the 20th century.

  • Essays on the Problems of Science and World Affairs. Oxford & New York: Pergamon Press, 1979. Octavo. Original laminate boards in black, green, and white. Binding lightly rubbed with some bumps and slight wear at the extremities. Contents clean and fresh. An excellent copy.

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