ERWIN SCHRöDINGER Biography - Famous Scientists


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Erwin Schrödinger was born on August 12, 1887, in Vienna, the only child of         
Rudolf Schrödinger, who was married to a daughter of Alexander Bauer, his           
Professor of Chemistry at the Technical College of Vienna. Erwin's father came       
from a Bavarian family which generations before had settled in Vienna. He was a     
highly gifted man with a broad education. After having finished his chemistry       
studies, he devoted himself for years to Italian painting. After this he took up     
botany, which resulted in a series of papers on plant phylogeny.                     
Schrödinger's wide interests dated from his school years at the Gymnasium, where     
he not only had a liking for the scientific disciplines, but also appreciated       
the severe logic of ancient grammar and the beauty of German poetry. (What he       
abhorred was memorizing of data and learning from books.)                           
From 1906 to 1910 he was a student at the University of Vienna, during which         
time he came under the strong influence of Fritz Hasenöhrl, who was Boltzmann's     
successor. It was in these years that Schrödinger acquired a mastery of             
eigenvalue problems in the physics of continuous media, thus laying the             
foundation for his future great work. Hereafter, as assistant to Franz Exner, he,   
together with his friend K. W. F. Kohlrausch, conducted practical work for           
students (without himself, as he said, learning what experimenting was). During     
the First World War he served as an artillery officer.                               
In 1920 he took up an academic position as assistant to Max Wien, followed by       
positions at Stuttgart (extraordinary professor), Breslau (ordinary professor),     
and at the University of Zurich (replacing von Laue) where he settled for six       
years. In later years Schrödinger looked back to his Zurich period with great       
pleasure - it was here that he enjoyed so much the contact and friendship of         
many of his colleagues, among whom were Hermann Weyl and Peter Debye. It was         
also his most fruitful period, being actively engaged in a variety of subjects       
of theoretical physics. His papers at that time dealt with specific heats of         
solids, with problems of thermodynamics (he was greatly interested in Boltzmann's   
probability theory) and of atomic spectra; in addition, he indulged in               
physiological studies of colour (as a result of his contacts with Kohlrausch and     
Exner, and of Helmholtz's lectures). His great discovery, Schrödinger's wave         
equation, was made at the end of this epoch-during the first half of 1926.           
It came as a result of his dissatisfaction with the quantum condition in Bohr's     
orbit theory and his belief that atomic spectra should really be determined by       
some kind of eigenvalue problem. For this work he shared with Dirac the Nobel       
Prize for 1933.                                                                     
In 1927 Schrödinger moved to Berlin as Planck's successor. Germany's capital was     
then a centre of great scientific activity and he enthusiastically took part in     
the weekly colloquies among colleagues, many of whom "exceeding him in age and       
reputation". With Hitler's coming to power (1933), however, Schrödinger decided     
he could not continue in Germany. He came to England and for a while held a         
fellowship at Oxford. In 1934 he was invited to lecture at Princeton University     
and was offered a permanent position there, but did not accept. In 1936 he was       
offered a position at University of Graz, which he accepted only after much         
deliberation and because his longing for his native country outweighed his           
caution. With the annexation of Austria in 1938, he was immediately in               
difficulty because his leaving Germany in 1933 was taken to be an unfriendly act.   
Soon afterwards he managed to escape to Italy, from where he proceeded to Oxford     
and then to University of Ghent. After a short stay he moved to the newly           
created Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin, where he became Director of       
the School for Theoretical Physics. He remained in Dublin until his retirement       
in 1955.                                                                             
All this time Schrödinger continued his research and published many papers on a     
variety of topics, including the problem of unifying gravitation and                 
electromagnetism, which also absorbed Einstein and which is still unsolved; (he     
was also the author of the well-known little book "What is Life?", 1944). He         
remained greatly interested in the foundations of atomic physics. Schrödinger       
disliked the generally accepted dual description in terms of waves and particles,   
with a statistical interpretation for the waves, and tried to set up a theory in     
terms of waves only. This led him into controversy with other leading physicists.   
After his retirement he returned to an honoured position in Vienna. He died on       
the 4th of January, 1961, after a long illness, survived by his faithful             
companion, Annemarie Bertel, whom he married in 1920.