5 Pairs Of Scientists Who ‘Heartily’ Hated Each Other

Rivalries are common in this world. They exist at every level. In our professional life, we come across many people whom we don’t like, no matter what. Most of your colleagues will be jealous of your professional success while others will hate you for no reason. The world of science is no different! Let us look at the 5 pairs of scientists who hated each other from their heart.

1. Albert Einstein and Phillipp Lenard

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Phillipp Lenard was a German experimental physicist who advanced the study of X-ray tubes and photoelectric effect. He was awarded the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on cathode rays. Albert Einstein was a German theoretical physicist who brought a revolution in the field of science with his new mathematical concept of space and time.

Initially, the relations between Lenard and Einstein were cordial. When Einstein published his quantum theory explaining the photoelectric effect, Lenard wrote to him, “Nothing can make me happier than a thinker of great depth and scope deriving some pleasure from my work.” Einstein, in turn, referred to Lenard as “a great master and genius.”

But soon Phillipp swept away in the wave of German Nationalism during the WWI. The relations between the two started to deteriorate. Lenard became increasingly convinced that the German physics that rests on experiments and facts, needs to be restored. He called Einstein’s theory of relativity a hoax. Lenard argued that Einstein’s hyper-theoretical and hyper-mathematical fabrications of space and time are exerting a pernicious influence in the field. The time had come, he argued, to restore experimentalism to its proper place. He also launched a malicious attack on Einstein, making little attempt to conceal his antipathy toward Jews. In 1920, just a year before Einstein won the Nobel Prize, the debate between Lenard and Einstein erupted into a duel of words at a major German research conference. The duel between Einstein and Lenard reminds us that how even top level scientists can think and act in unscientific ways.

2. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Arthur Eddington

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Eddington was a British astrophysicist who proved Einstein’s theory of general relativity correct in 1919. He was the top man in his field. Chandrasekhar was an Indian astrophysicist and the nephew of the Nobel Laureate, Sir C.V. Raman. Chandrasekhar was a genius. He had many scientific publications at a young age. He applied the theory of relativity on the dying stars and discovered that the massive stars must collapse to an object whose gravity is strong enough to trap the light: black holes. Chandra made his discovery while on his way to study in the greatest scientific powerhouse of the day, Trinity College, Cambridge. He assumed the community there would welcome him and his discovery with open arms.

His hopes were shattered once he reached his destination. He was ignored by the scientific community and he also went into depression which he overcame later. In 1930’s Eddington was at the top of his career. He was the most famous astrophysicist. Chandra and Eddington became good friends and exchanged letters of their scientific advancements. He supported Chandra’s theory of stellar evolution. Eddington suggested him to present his paper at the Royal Astronomical Society in London. He prepared his paper, but the day before the meeting, Chandra learned that Eddington was to deliver the following lecture, on the very same topic. He was puzzled, but thought no more about it.

On January 11 1935, all the leading figures in astrophysics were at the Society. Chandra delivered his paper, showing a graph that made it transparently clear that a star of above a certain mass would inevitably dwindle to nothing and beyond. Triumphantly he sat down, assuming that Eddington would support his conclusions. But to his horror Eddington, a supercilious man, instead used the full force of his famed oratorical skills to demolish the young man. Had Eddington befriended Chandra in order to destroy him?

Later in life, on multiple occasions, Chandrasekhar expressed the view that Eddington’s behaviour was in part racially motivated.

3. Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Shrödinger

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Both these legends of quantum mechanics never liked each other. Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist and Schrödinger hailed from Austria. Erwin Schrödinger entered the scene of quantum world with an alternative view of quantum mechanics – wave mechanics. Not only did his results match experiments, they allowed scientists to get some degree of visualization again, although less than had been offered by Bohr’s obsolete theory. Heisenberg thought Schrödinger’s visualization was aesthetically ‘disgusting.’ Schrödinger was contemptuous of Heisenberg’s unvisualizable theory. The pair heartily disliked one another.

4. Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison

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These two geniuses ushered in the era of modern electric systems and owned over 2000 patents between them.  Tesla actually used to work for Edison when he was a youth, but he left because he disagreed with Edison’s scientific method. It is widely known that Edison was more of a CEO than an engineer, quickly running to the patent office whenever he or one of his employees invented something new. On the other hand, Tesla worked out his inventions in his imagination, making use of his eidetic memory.

The main reason for their disagreement stemmed from the fact that they were trying to market their own forms of electricity. Edison developed Direct Current (DC), while Tesla promoted Alternating Current (AC). Edison slammed AC by focusing on the safety issues in its use, but now that we understand that AC is far more economical and efficient, Tesla has become responsible for powering our homes.

Tesla’s inventions are the backbone of modern power and communication systems, but he faded into obscurity in the 20th century. However, Edison’s legacy survived, due to his legion of factories and patents, including the moving picture camera, kinetoscope and the light bulb.

5. Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke

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Robert Hooke was a respected scientist who deserves a better place in history, but since he was on the losing side of a bitter rivalry with the most renowned scientist in history, Sir Isaac Newton, he has been almost completely forgotten. Some say that Newton used his position as President of the Royal Society to undermine Hooke’s effort after Hooke criticized Newton’s papers on optics. Some claim that Hooke was insecure and jealous of someone more intelligent or gifted than himself.  According to Hooke, Newton stole the idea for the Universal Law of Gravitation from him and always felt short-changed.

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One comment

  1. I also heard that Eddington used to smuggle copy of Einstein’s paper on general theory of relativity. he later tested it via voyager to observation of solar eclipse in which distant stars (unseen in common due to brightness of sun) are visible properly. It had been in conclusion that actual position of these stars is somewhere but they are visible in observed position because light rays coming from actual positions of these stars are bend in a certain angle that they are seen to be situated in so called “observed pseudo position”.

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