Erwin Schrödinger

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Erwin Schrödinger : biography

12 August 1887 – 4 January 1961

Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger ( 12 August 1887 – 4 January 1961), was an Austrian physicist who developed a number of fundamental results in the field of quantum theory, which formed the basis of wave mechanics: he formulated the wave equation (stationary and time-dependent Schrödinger equation) and revealed the identity of his development of the formalism and matrix mechanics. Schrödinger proposed an original interpretation of the physical meaning of the wave function and in subsequent years repeatedly criticized the conventional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (using e.g. the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat). In addition, he was the author of many works in various fields of physics: statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, physics of dielectrics, color theory, electrodynamics, general relativity, and cosmology, and he made several attempts to construct a unified field theory. In his book What Is Life? Schrödinger addressed the problems of genetics, looking at the phenomenon of life from the point of view of physics. He paid great attention to the philosophical aspects of science, ancient and oriental philosophical concepts, ethics and religion. He also wrote on philosophy and theoretical biology.


The philosophical issues raised by Schrödinger’s cat are still debated today and remains his most enduring legacy in popular science, while Schrödinger’s equation is his most enduring legacy at a more technical level. To this day, Schrödinger is known as the father of quantum physics. The large crater Schrödinger, on the far side of the Moon, is named after him. The Erwin Schrödinger International Institute for Mathematical Physics was established in Vienna in 1993.

A building is named after him at the University of Limerick, in Limerick, Ireland.

Honours and awards

  • Nobel Prize for Physics (1933) – for the formulation of the Schrödinger equation
  • Max Planck Medal (1937)
  • Erwin Schrödinger Prize of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (1956)
  • Austrian Decoration for Science and Art (1957)


Early years

In 1887 Schrödinger was born in Vienna, Austria, to Rudolf Schrödinger (cerecloth producer, botanist) and Georgine Emilia Brenda (daughter of Alexander Bauer, Professor of Chemistry, Technische Hochschule Vienna). He was their only child.

His mother was half Austrian and half English; his father was Catholic and his mother was Lutheran. Despite being raised in a religious household, he called himself an atheist. However, he had strong interests in Eastern religions and in pantheism which were significant influences on his thoughts.

He was also able to learn English outside of school, as his maternal grandmother was British. Between 1906 and 1910 Schrödinger studied in Vienna under Franz Serafin Exner (1849–1926) and Friedrich Hasenöhrl (1874–1915). He also conducted experimental work with Karl Wilhelm Friedrich "Fritz" Kohlrausch.

In 1911, Schrödinger became an assistant to Exner. At an early age, Schrödinger was strongly influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer. As a result of his extensive reading of Schopenhauer’s works, he became deeply interested throughout his life in color theory and philosophy. In his lecture "Mind and Matter", he said that "The world extended in space and time is but our representation." This is a repetition of the first words of Schopenhauer’s main work.

Middle years

In 1914 Erwin Schrödinger achieved Habilitation (venia legendi). Between 1914 and 1918 he participated in war work as a commissioned officer in the Austrian fortress artillery (Gorizia, Duino, Sistiana, Prosecco, Vienna). In 1920 he became the assistant to Max Wien, in Jena, and in September 1920 he attained the position of ao. 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 (now Wrocław, Poland).