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Walter Heitler : biography

02 January 1904 - 15 November 1981

Walter Heinrich Heitler ( 2 January 1904 – 15 November 1981) was a German physicist who made contributions to quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory. He brought chemistry under quantum mechanics through his theory of valence bonding.


  • 1943 – Fellow of the Royal Irish Academy – Royal Irish Academy
  • 1948 – Fellow of the Royal Society of London
  • 1968 – Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft Max-Planck Medal
  • 1969 – Marcel Benoist Prize
  • 1979 – Gold Medal of the Humboldt Gesellschaft


At Bristol, Heitler was a Research Fellow of the Academic Assistance Council, in the H. H. Wills Physics Laboratory. At Bristol, among other things, he worked on quantum field theory and quantum electrodynamics on his own, as well as in collaboration with other scientific refugees from Hitler, such as Hans Bethe and Herbert Fröhlich, who also left Germany in 1933. .

With Bethe, he published a paper on pair production of gamma rays in the Coulomb field of an atomic nucleus, in which they developed the Bethe-Heitler formula for Bremsstrahlung. Hans Bethe and Walter Heitler On the Stopping of Fast Particles and on the Creation of Positive Electrons, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A Volume 146, Issue 856, pp. 83-112, 1934. – Bethe-Heitler formula for Bremsstrahlung

Heitler also contributed to the understanding of cosmic rays, H. J. Bhabha and W. Heitler The Passage of Fast Electrons and the Theory of Cosmic Showers, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A Volume 159 (1937) 432. as well as predicted the existence of the electrically neutral pi meson. H. Fröhlich, W. Heitler, and N. Kemmer On the Nuclear Forces and the Magnetic Moments of the Neutron and the Proton, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A Mathematical and Physical Sciences Volume 166, No. 924 (May 4, 1938), pp. 154-177.

In 1936, Heitler published his major work on quantum electrodynamics, The Quantum Theory of Radiation, which marked the direction for future developments in quantum theory. Moore, 1992, p. 376. The book appeared in many editions and printings, even being translated in Russian.

After the fall of France in 1940, Heitler was briefly interned on the Isle of Man for several months. Moore, 1992, p. 368.

Heitler remained at Bristol eight years, until 1941, when he became a professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, which was arranged there by Erwin Schrödinger, Director of the School for Theoretical Physics. – Irish University Science

At Dublin, Heitler's work with H. W. Peng on radiation damping theory and the meson scattering process resulted in the Heitler-Peng integral equation. W. Heitler and H. W. Peng Anomalous Scattering of Mesons, Phys. Rev. 62 (1942) 81 – 82, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin Ireland, Received 22 May 1942. W. Heitler and H. W. Peng, Proc. Camb. Phil. Soc. 38 (1942), 296. J. Hamilton, W. Heitler, and H. W. Peng Theory of Cosmic-Ray Mesons Physical Review Volume 64, Issue 3-4, pp. 78-94, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, Ireland.

During the 1942-1943 academic year, Heitler gave a course on elementary wave mechanics, during which W. S. E. Hickson took notes and prepared a finished copy. These notes were the basis for Heitler's book Elementary Wave Mechanics: Introductory Course of Lectures, first published in 1943. A new edition was published as Elementary Wave Mechanics in 1945. This version was revised and republished many times, as well as being translated into French and Italian and published in 1949 and in German in 1961. A further revised version appeared as Elementary Wave Mechanics With Applications to Quantum Chemistry in 1956, as well as in German in 1961.

Schrödinger resigned as Director of the School for Theoretical Physics in 1946, but stayed at Dublin, whereupon Heitler became Director. Heitler stayed at Dublin until 1949, when he accepted a position as Ordinarius Professor for Theoretical Physics and Director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Zurich, where he remained until 1974, when he retired.

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