Erwin Schrödinger


Erwin Schrödinger : biography

12 August 1887 – 4 January 1961

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 skepticism about it and gave a philosophical lecture instead. During this period Schrödinger turned from mainstream quantum mechanics’ definition of wave–particle duality and promoted the wave idea alone, causing much controversy.

Personal life

On 6 April 1920, Schrödinger married Annemarie Bertel.Schrödinger: Life and Thought by Walter John Moore, Cambridge University Press 1992 ISBN 0-521-43767-9, discusses Schrödinger’s unconventional relationships, including his affair with Hildegunde March, in chapters seven and eight, "Berlin" and "Exile in Oxford".

Schrödinger suffered from tuberculosis and several times in the 1920s stayed at a sanatorium in Arosa. It was there that he discovered his wave equation.

On 4 January 1961, Schrödinger died in Vienna at the age of 73 of tuberculosis. He left a widow, Anny (born Annemarie Bertel on 3 December 1896, died 3 October 1965), and was buried in Alpbach, Austria.

Scientific activites

Early activities

Handbook of Electricity and Magnetism Dieelectrism

Quantum mechanics

Old quantum theory

In the first years of his career Schrödinger became acquainted with the ideas of quantum theory, developed in the works of Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Arnold Sommerfeld, and others. This knowledge helped him work on some problems in statistical physics, but the Austrian scientist at the time was not yet ready to part with the traditional methods of classical physics.

The first publications of Schrödinger about atomic theory and the theory of spectra began to emerge only from the beginning of the 1920s, after his personal acquaintance with Sommerfeld and Wolfgang Pauli and his move to Germany. In January 1921, Schrödinger finished his first article on this subject, about the framework of the Bohr-Sommerfeld effect of the interaction of electrons on some features of the spectra of the alkali metals. Of particular interest to him was the introduction of relativistic considerations in quantum theory. In autumn 1922 he analyzed the electron orbits in an atom from a geometric point of view, using methods developed by the mathematician Hermann Weyl (1885-1955). This work, in which it was shown that quantum orbits are associated with certain geometric properties, was an important step in predicting some of the features of wave mechanics. Earlier in the same year he created the Schrödinger equation of the relativistic Doppler effect for spectral lines, based on the hypothesis of light quanta and considerations of energy and momentum. He liked the idea of his teacher Exner on the statistical nature of the conservation laws, so he enthusiastically embraced the articles of Bohr, Kramers, and Slater, which suggested the possibility of violation of these laws in individual atomic processes (for example, in the process of emission of radiation). Despite the fact that the experiments of Hans Geiger and Walther Bothe soon cast doubt on this, the idea of energy as a statistical concept was a lifelong attraction for Schrödinger and he discussed it in some reports and publications.The Conceptual Development of Quantum Mechanics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966; 2nd ed: New York: American Institute of Physics, 1989. ISBN 0-88318-617-9

Creation of wave mechanics

In January 1926, Schrödinger published in Annalen der Physik the paper "Quantisierung als Eigenwertproblem" [tr. Quantization as an Eigenvalue Problem] on wave mechanics and presented what is now known as the Schrödinger equation. In this paper, he gave a "derivation" of the wave equation for time-independent systems and showed that it gave the correct energy eigenvalues for a hydrogen-like atom. This paper has been universally celebrated as one of the most important achievements of the twentieth century and created a revolution in quantum mechanics and indeed of all physics and chemistry. A second paper was submitted just four weeks later that solved the quantum harmonic oscillator, rigid rotor, and diatomic molecule problems and gave a new derivation of the Schrödinger equation. A third paper in May showed the equivalence of his approach to that of Heisenberg and gave the treatment of the Stark effect. A fourth paper in this most remarkable series showed how to treat problems in which the system changes with time, as in scattering problems. These papers were the central achievement of his career and were at once recognized as having great significance by the physics community.


One of Schrödinger’s lesser-known areas of scientific contribution was his work on color, color perception, and colorimetry (Farbenmetrik). In 1920, he published three papers in this area:

  • "Theorie der Pigmente von größter Leuchtkraft," Annalen der Physik, (4), 62, (1920), 603–22 (Theory of Pigments with Highest Luminosity)
  • "Grundlinien einer Theorie der Farbenmetrik im Tagessehen," Annalen der Physik, (4), 63, (1920), 397–456; 481–520 (Outline of a theory of color measurement for daylight vision)
  • "Farbenmetrik," Zeitschrift für Physik, 1, (1920), 459–66 (Color measurement).

The second of these is available in English as "Outline of a Theory of Color Measurement for Daylight Vision" in Sources of Color Science, Ed. David L. MacAdam, The MIT Press (1970), 134–82.