Erwin Schrodinger

Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger (August 12, 1887 – January 4, 1961) was an Austrian – Irish physicist who achieved fame for his contributions to quantum mechanics, especially the Schrodinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1933. In 1935, after extensive correspondence with personal friend Albert Einstein, he proposed the Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment.

austria_1983_1000_schilling_f_mmAustria (1983) 1,000 Schilling (front) – Portrait of Erwin Schrodinger

In 1887 Schrodinger was born in Vienna, Austria to Rudolf Schrodinger (cerecloth producer, botanist) and Georgine Emilia Brenda (daughter of Alexander Bauer, Professor of Chemistry, k.u.k. Technische Hochschule Vienna). His father was a Catholic and his mother was a Lutheran. In 1898 he attended the Akademisches Gymnasium. Between 1906 and 1910 Schrodinger studied in Vienna under Franz Serafin Exner (1849 – 1926) and Friedrich Hasenöhrl (1874 – 1915). He also conducted experimental work with Friedrich Kohlrausch. In 1911, Schrodinger became an assistant to Exner.

On April 6, 1920, Schrodinger married Annemarie Bertel. The same year, he became the assistant to Max Wien, in Jena, and in September 1920 he attained the position of Professor, roughly equivalent to Reader (UK) or associate professor (US), in Stuttgart. In 1921, he became o. Prof. (Ordentlicher Professor, i.e. full professor), in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland).

In 1922, he attended the University of Zurich. In January 1926, Schrdinger 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 Schrodinger equation.
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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 Schrodinger 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 joined Max Planck at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. In 1933, however, Schrdinger 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 (Schrodinger lived with two women) was not met with acceptance. In 1934, Schrodinger 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.

On January 4, 1961, Schrodinger died in Vienna of tuberculosis at the age of 73. He left a widow, Anny (born Annamaria Bertel on December 3, 1896, died October 3, 1965), and was buried in Alpbach (Austria).

The huge Schrodinger crater on the far side of the Moon was posthumously named after him by the IAU. The Erwin Schrodinger International Institute for Mathematical Physics was established in Vienna in 1993.

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