Cécile DeWitt




DeWitt, Cécile (2011). Foreword. In: The Role of Gravitation in Physics: Report from the 1957 Chapel Hill Conference. Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften.

A conference on The Role of Gravitation in Physics was held at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, from January 18 to January 23, 1957. It was planned as a working session to discuss problems in the theory of gravitation which have recently received attention.

The present report was undertaken as a necessary requirement to obtain conference funds. However, as the conference progressed, it became more and more apparent that a report of the discussions would have a scientific interest, partly because of an increasing number of requests for a report from physicists unable to attend the conference, and partly because of the nature of the discussions.

Research in gravitational theory has been relatively neglected in the past two or three decades for several good reasons: (1) the lack of experimental guideposts, (2) the mathematical difficulties encountered in the study of non-linear fields, and (3) the experience of repeated early failures to extend general relativity theory in a permanently interesting fashion. A renewed interest in the subject has recently begun to develop, and the Chapel Hill conference gave an opportunity to the few physicists actively working in the field - some having kept up an interest in it in spite of its difficulties, others having lately engaged in its study, often from a new point of view - to discuss the preliminary results obtained and to present new lines of approach.

This situation gave rise to very lively discussions. Obviously, most of the material discussed is not ready for publication yet and - owing to the difficulty of the problems under consideration - may not be for a long time to come. That is why an informal report of the proceedings is valuable, but at the same time delicate to write up. An effort has been made to check with the authors the report of their contributions to the conference, and some have very kindly rewritten the draft proposed to them. However, the time allotted to the preparation of the report had to be limited, because the usefulness of such a report decreases with time more rapidly than its quality increases; moreover, the reporters should not be asked to spend an undue amount of time working on the report, which could be better spent on original research. Consequently, no statement from this report can be quoted without explicit permission from the author.

The papers which are ready for publication will appear in the July 1957 issue of Reviews of Modern Physics. A brief summary of the conference intended for non-specialists has been sent to Science.

It can hardly be said that the report gives a perfectly true picture of the conference. The report has been prepared from notes taken during the session, from material given by the authors, and from tape recordings. (The reporters had hoped to have a stenographic transcript available, but the cost of this transcript was beyond common sense.) Some contributions have been very appreciably abridged, some are reproduced practically verbatim, some are extended, and some have not been recorded, depending largely on the “communication” (both material and intellectual) between authors on the one hand and reporters and editors on the other.

At the end of the conference, the participants expressed - together with their belief in the importance of the subject matter - the wish to meet again, if possible in Europe in the summer of 1958. Such meetings should truly give an opportunity for discussions and for contacts between senior physicists who have a broad and thorough understanding of the subject and younger physicists of various backgrounds who have an interest in it. The need is also felt for discussions and contacts between workers in the field for periods of time longer than conferences.

Thanks are due to the sponsors, the members of the steering committee, and the members of the Physics Department of the University of North Carolina. The interest shown in the conference by Governor Luther H. Hodges and by the officers of the University was very gratifying. Special mention should be made of the cooperation of the University Extension Division and of the many individuals who assisted in hospitality arrangements for the conferees. To all who have made the Chapel Hill conference possible and have helped in its organization, this report is dedicated as a token of appreciation.

Cécile M. DeWitt

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

March 15, 1957


From January 18-23, 1957, a group of physicists from several countries met at the University of North Carolina to discuss the role of gravitation in physics. The program was divided into two broad headings: Unquantized and quantized general relativity. Under the former came a review of classical relativity, its experimental tests, the initial value problem, gravitational radiation, equations of motion, and unified field theory. Under quantized general relativity came a discussion of the motivation for quantization, the problem of measurement, and the actual techniques for quantization. In both sections the relationship of general relativity to fundamental particles was discussed. In addition there was a session devoted to cosmological questions. A large part of the relevant discussions is reproduced in this report in a somewhat abridged form. A conference summary statement is presented by Professor P. G. Bergmann.




University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, January 18-23, 1957



International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, with financial support from


National Science Foundation

Wright Air Development Center, U.S. Air Force

Office of Ordnance Research, U.S. Army

This conference was an activity of the North Carolina Project of the Institute of Field Physics, established in 1956 in the Department of Physics of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Its organization has been carried out through the Institute of Natural Science of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


Frederick J. Belinfante, Purdue University

Peter G. Bergmann, Syracuse University

Bryce S. DeWitt, University of North Carolina

Cécile M. DeWitt, University of North Carolina

Freeman J. Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study

John A. Wheeler, Princeton University

MARCH 19571

Wright Air Development Center

Air Research and Development Command

United States Air Force

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio


W. A. Bowers

B. S. DeWitt

Cécile M. DeWitt

M. M. Duncan

J. M. Ging

J. R. Herring

E. M. Lynch

A. V. Masket

Eugen Merzbacher

Technical editor and typist

Ouida C. Taylor

Scientific editors

Cécile M. DeWitt

Bryce S. DeWitt


Cécile M. DeWitt mailed this report to the Air Force on March 18; on March 19, she gave birth to her third daughter.