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The Roaring 20's

Narrator: ``And here the revolution really begins. Bohr's Ansatz is not yet an explanation, but the unifying power of his atomic model demonstrates that we need to take this quantization business seriously. So far none of these old-school scientists wanted to take their treatment physically, but rather as mathematical patchwork.

``Now a younger school of upstart hotshots is to take the reigns. They consider these fresh and wild ideas on their own merits, with flagrant disregard for stuffy notions of physical intuition. Louis de Broglie was a young aristocrat whose academic reputation wasn't going to determine whether his kids were fed, so his doctoral work went out on a limb:''

de Broglie: [takes chalk from Bohr]
At $E=h\nu$, adds $\nu = c/\lambda \Longrightarrow \lambda = hc/E$.

``But for light, we know that E/c = p, the momentum of the photon. Therefore . . . ''

\begin{displaymath}\lambda = {h \over p} \end{displaymath}

``If this is true for a photon, why not also for an electron?''

Narrator: ``Now the paradigm really begins to shift. It seems we need to start taking seriously these strange ideas that matter may be both waves and particles. Indeed, experiments have already been done demonstrating that X-rays scattered like particles, and electrons like waves, but de Broglie's interpretation was not believed for some time.

``Another two kids are also busy exploring some theory along these lines, one thinking about particles and the other about waves. Both take advantage of the perks involved in theoretical work, and do their thinking in comfort and style. Werner Heisenberg takes a vacation to an island and writes a paper . . . . ''


[matrices, commutativity, leading to the UNCERTAINTY RELATION]

\begin{displaymath}\Delta x \, \Delta p \; \ge \; {\hbar \over 2} \end{displaymath}

``But I'm not sure about that, I'd better send it to Pauli to have a look, he knows more about this matrix stuff . . . . ''

Narrator: ``Meanwhile, a fetching young lad named Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger takes the wife of a colleague (named Weyl) on retreat to a mountainside cabin. He also takes a stack of papers and two pearls with which plug his ears while he works, and she . . . uh . . . waits. He mixes work and pleasure, but in discrete packets. He also uses Weyl's mathematics to formulate wave mechanics.''

Schroedinger: [Flirts with several ``consenting'' females on his way onstage.] ``Ahh, Frau Weyl, I hardly recognized you with your cloths on!'' [Looks at her - ponders in great thought.] ``Your curves . . . your curves . . . that's it! - your curves explain all! What we need is a WAVE EQUATION.'' [Goes to board and writes.]

\begin{displaymath}{\cal H} \psi \; = \; E \psi \end{displaymath}

``That's it! Now Frau Weyl, may I sit next to you?''

`` . . . though if they don't work out a better theory than this, I'll wish I hadn't had anything to do with the whole affair.''

Narrator: ``And he doesn't have much more to do with the affair. He is photographed at conferences (flocked by other physicist's wives) and writes a little ditty called What is life?''

Pauli: [aside] ``This paper is so bad it is not even wrong.''

``The fact that the author thinks slowly is not serious, but the fact that he publishes faster than he thinks is inexcusable.''

next up previous
Next: End of the Beginning Up: The Dreams Stuff is Made Of Previous: McGill, 1905
Jess H. Brewer