Erwin Schrödinger

Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger (August 12, 1887 – January 4, 1961), an Austrian physicist, achieved fame for his contributions to quantum mechanics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1933. He proposed the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment.


Erwin Schrödinger with his parents, Gorgine and Rudolf Schrödinger

Early years

In 1887 Schrödinger was born in Erdberg, Vienna to Rudolf Schrödinger (cerecloth producer, botanist) and Georgine Emilia Brenda (daughter of Alexander Bauer, Professor of Chemistry, k.u.k. Technische Hochschule Vienna). 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 in Kohlrausch. In 1911, Schrödinger became an assistant to Exner.

Erwin Schrödinger, as depicted on the former Austrian 1000 Schilling bank note.

Middle years

In 1914 Erwin Schrödinger achieved Habilitation (venia legendi). Between 1914 and 1918 he participated in war work (Görz, Duino, Sistiana, Prosecco, Vienna). On April 6, 1920 Schrödinger married Annemarie Bertel. In 1920, he became the assistant to Max Wien, in Jena. In September 1920 he attained the position of a. o. Prof. (Ausserordentlicher 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 (presently Wroclaw, Poland).

In 1922, he went to University of Zürich. In 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 1927, he joined 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 (Schrödinger lived with two women) did not meet 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.

Later years

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 (he later regretted doing so, and he personally apologized to Einstein). 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. He wrote about 50 further publications on various topics. These attempted to approach a unified field theory.

In 1944, he wrote "What is Life?" (which contains Negentropy, concepts for genetic code). According to James D. Watson's memoir, DNA, The Secret of Life, Schrödinger's 1944 book What is Life? 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 Vedanta.

In 1956, he returned to Vienna (chair ad personam). At an important lecture during the World Energy Conference he refused to speak on nuclear energy because of his scepticism about it and gave a philosophical lecture instead.

Death and afterwards

In 1961, Schrödinger died in Vienna of tuberculosis at the age of 73. He left a widow, Anny. He was buried in Alpbach (Austria).

After his death, the huge Schrödinger crater on the far side of the Moon was named for him by the IAU.

See also

  • Schrödinger's cat
  • Schrödinger method
  • Schrödinger equation
  • Schrödinger semigroup

Links and references

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