Remembering Erwin Schrödinger–A Pioneer of Quantum Physics

Author: Sherry Helms

schrodingerToday is the 126th Birth Anniversary of Erwin Schrödinger- the Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist whose stationary and time-dependent eponymous equation formed the basis of quantum wave mechanics. Born in Vienna, Austria on August 12, 1887, to Catholic father and his half-Austrian and half-English wife, Schrödinger was a gifted child who showed great interest in science and philosophy and made significant contributions to nearly all its branches.

His interests and strengths lay not only in the physics, religions and pantheism but also in languages, both modern and ancient, as well as poetry, which were strong influences on his views. He also authored numerous books in various fields of physics including “Space-Time Structure,” “Statistical Thermodynamics,” “Nature and the Greeks and Science and Humanism,” My View of the World,” and many more. In addition, he wrote on philosophical aspects of science and theoretical biology. His well-received 1944 non-fiction science book, What Is Life?, was based on the course of public lectures delivered by him, introduced the problems of genetics, observing life from the point of view of physics.   

The only son of knowledgeable parents, Schrödinger was taught at home as a child, until he was 11. He then went on to study theoretical physics at the Vienna University, studied under Friedrich Hasenöhrl and Franz S. Exner, where he remained until World War I. He undertook voluntary military service on the Italian front, later went back to academia to study experimental physics. Due to the strong impact of Arthur Schopenhauer’s works at a very early age, he became extremely interested throughout his life in philosophy and color theory.

Most productive and creative moments in his career were those six years he spent in Zurich, though he did not start the tour de force for which he was renowned worldwide–quantum wave mechanics–until 1925. Einstein’s revolutionary papers on relativity sparked his curiosity. H1304140920137Z44ae49e examined the movement of electron in an atom as a wave. By 1926, he published his masterpiece, which was released after a long theoretical research of six-months, providing hypothetical foundations for the atomic model. Lies at the heart of Quantum mechanics, his extremely groundbreaking discovery of wave equation earned him the Noble prize in physics in 1933. However, he received noble prize for his amazing series of six papers but his most popular contribution to the field of quantum physics came in 1935, when he developed cat-in-a-box thought experiment. Schrödinger’s cat is his most enduring legacy that allowed him to pose a question to Copenhagen interpretations of quantum wave mechanics to everyday objects by using the paradox.

Many scientists were influenced by the speculations of Erwin Schrödinger. One of them is James D. Watson, the co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953 stated in his memoir- DNA that Schrödinger’s book- the Secret of Life inspired him to research gene. Contributed profoundly to the understanding of subatomic behavior, the legendary physicist had a very long official name- Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger.

Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger’s had to relocate a number of times, looking for a society that would accept his ménage a trois  and a nation in which to work that provided religious tolerance.

After warfare and foreign employment had receded from Austria in 1956, he came back to Vienna. He suffered from tuberculosis the following year and died on January 1961 left a widow, Anny, and was buried in the western Austrian village of Alpbach.

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