13 July, 2008

Erwin Shrodinger


Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian - Irish physicist who achieved fame for his contributions to quantum mechanics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1933. In 1935, after extensive correspondence with personal friend Albert Einstein, he proposed the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment.

In 1887 Schrödinger was born in Vienna, Austria to Rudolf Schrödinger and Georgine Emilia Brenda. His mother was half Austrian and half English; the English side of her family came from Leamington Spa. Schrödinger learned English and German almost at the same time due to the fact that both were spoken in the family household. His father was a Catholic and his mother was a Lutheran. In 1898 he attended the Akademisches Gymnasium. Between 1906 and 1910 Schrödinger studied in Vienna under Franz Serafin Exner (1849 - 1926) and Friedrich Hasenöhrl (1874 - 1915). He also conducted experimental work with Friedrich Kohlrausch. In 1911, Schrödinger became an assistant to Exner.

In 1914 Erwin Schrödinger achieved Habilitation. Between 1914 and 1918 he participated in war work as a commissioned officer in the Austrian fortress artillery. On April 6, 1920, Schrödinger married Annemarie Bertel. The same year, he became the assistant to Max Wien, in Jena, and in September 1920 he attained the position of an o. Prof., roughly equivalent to Reader or associate professor, in Stuttgart. In 1921, he became o. Prof., in Breslau.

In 1922, he attended the University of Zürich. In January 1926, Schrödinger published in the Annalen der Physik the paper "Quantisierung als Eigenwertproblem" [tr. Quantisation as an Eigenvalue Problem] on wave mechanics and what is now known as the Schrödinger equation. In this paper he gave a "derivation" of the wave equation for time independent systems, and showed that it gave the correct energy eigenvalues for the hydrogen-like atom. This paper has been universally celebrated as one of the most important achievements of the twentieth century, and created a revolution in quantum mechanics, and indeed of all physics and chemistry. A second paper was submitted just four weeks later that solved the quantum harmonic oscillator, the rigid rotor and the diatomic molecule, and gives a new derivation of the Schrödinger equation. A third paper in May showed the equivalence of his approach to that of Heisenberg and gave the treatment of the Stark effect. A fourth paper in this most remarkable series showed how to treat problems in which the system changes with time, as in scattering problems. These papers were the central achievement of his career and were at once recognized as having great significance by the physics community.

In 1927, he succeeded Max Planck at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. In 1933, however, Schrödinger decided to leave Germany; he disliked the Nazis' anti-semitism. He became a Fellow of Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. Soon after he arrived, he received the Nobel Prize together with Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac. His position at Oxford did not work out; his unconventional personal life was not met with acceptance. In 1934, Schrödinger lectured at Princeton University; he was offered a permanent position there, but did not accept it. Again, his wish to set up house with his wife and his mistress may have posed a problem. He had the prospect of a position at the University of Edinburgh but visa delays occurred, and in the end he took up a position at the University of Graz in Austria in 1936.

In the midst of these tenure issues in 1935, after extensive correspondence with personal friend Albert Einstein, he proposed the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment.

In 1938, after Hitler occupied Austria, Schrödinger had problems because of his flight from Germany in 1933 and his known opposition to Nazism. He issued a statement recanting this opposition. However, this did not fully appease the new dispensation and the university dismissed him from his job for political unreliability. He suffered harassment and received instructions not to leave the country, but he and his wife fled to Italy. From there he went to visiting positions in Oxford and Ghent Universities.

In 1940 he received an invitation to help establish an Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin, Ireland. He became the Director of the School for Theoretical Physics and remained there for 17 years, during which time he became a naturalized Irish citizen. He wrote about 50 further publications on various topics, including his explorations of unified field theory.

In 1944, he wrote What is Life?, which contains a discussion of Negentropy and the concept of a complex molecule with the genetic code for living organisms. According to James D. Watson's memoir, DNA, The Secret of Life, Schrödinger's book gave Watson the inspiration to research the gene, which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix structure. Similarly, Francis Crick, in his autobiographical book What Mad Pursuit, described how he was influenced by Schrödinger's speculations about how genetic information might be stored in molecules. Schrödinger stayed in Dublin until retiring in 1955. During this time he remained committed to his particular passion; scandalous involvements with students occurred and he fathered two children by two different Irish women. He had a life-long interest in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, which influenced his speculations at the close of What is Life? about the possibility that individual consciousness is only a manifestation of a unitary consciousness pervading the universe.

In 1956, he returned to Vienna. At an important lecture during the World Energy Conference he refused to speak on nuclear energy because of his skepticism about it and gave a philosophical lecture instead. During this period Schrödinger turned from mainstream quantum mechanics' definition of wave-particle duality and promoted the wave idea alone causing much controversy.

Schrödinger decided in 1933 that he could not live in a country in which persecution of Jews had become a national policy. Alexander Frederick Lindemann, the head of physics at Oxford University, visited Germany in the spring of 1933 to try to arrange positions in England for some young Jewish scientists from Germany. He spoke to Schrödinger about posts for one of his assistants and was surprised to discover that Schrödinger himself was interested in leaving Germany. Schrödinger asked for a colleague, Arthur March, to be offered a post as his assistant.

Many of the scientists who had left Germany spent the summer of 1933 in the Italian province of Bolzano. On 4 November 1933 Schrödinger, his wife and Hilde March arrived in Oxford. Schrödinger had been elected a fellow of Magdalen College. Soon after they arrived in Oxford, Schrödinger heard that, for his work on wave mechanics, he had been awarded the Nobel Prize.

In early 1934 Schrödinger was invited to lecture at Princeton University and while there he was made an offer of a permanent position. On his return to Oxford he negotiated about salary and pension conditions at Princeton but in the end he did not accept. It is thought that the fact that he wished to live at Princeton with Anny and Hilde both sharing the upbringing of his child was not found acceptable. The fact that Schrödinger openly had two wives, even if one of them was married to another man, was not well received in Oxford either.

Erwin Schrödinger's gravesiteOn January 4, 1961, Schrödinger died in Vienna of tuberculosis at the age of 73.

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