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Cecile DeWitt-Morette

Jane and Roland Blumberg Centennial Professor Emerita

Areas of ResearchGeneral relativity; mathematical physics; Feynman path integrals
OfficeRLM 9.220A
Phone(512) 471-1052
Emailcdewitt@physics.utexas.edu

My life has been profoundly changed by World War II.

I obtained my baccalauréat in June, 1940. I wanted to go to Medical School. To gain admission to a French Medical School, you had to study for one more year after high school and then take a very tough examination.

War disruption and concern that I would fail admission to Medical School (although I ranked first in High School) made me opt for a BS in Math, Physics, and Chemistry, which I completed in 1943 at the Université de Caen, in Normandy.

Not particularly interested in continuing in science and wanting more exciting opportunities, I decided to go to Paris. But under German occupation, Caen was in a coastal zone where you needed a pass if you wanted to go to Paris on a regular basis. In order to get the pass, I signed up for a Master’s program in Paris at the Sorbonne.

The course was terrible, but I had my pass. On D-day (6th June, 1944), I happened to be in Paris. My home in Caen was destroyed in the bombing by the Allies. Everyone inside the house was killed.

On October 1, 1944, I accepted a job offer in the lab of Frederic Joliot-Curie (son-in-law of Marie Curie). I quickly realized that, as a whole, physics in Europe was cut off from exciting recent developments in the U.S. and the U.K. I also realized that my own education was abysmally poor. Joliot arranged for me to go to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies that had been a refuge for Jewish physicists during the war. I had entered the world of physicists.

By 1950, I had studied in Dublin, Copenhagen, and for two years at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. I had written two books: l’Energie Atomique, written in the weeks following Hiroshima; and Particules Elémentaires (Hermann Editeurs 1951), based on a course I had given at the Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Fisicas (Rio de Janeiro). I had become acquainted with the great physicists of this period. I wanted to go back to France to help those who had been “left behind” to participate in the promising recent developments in Physics.

In 1951, I created the Ecole de Physique aux Houches.

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