• Erwin Schrodinger

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Erwin Schrödinger

Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was born on August 12, 1887 in Erdberg, Vienna, Austria. He was born the only child of Rudolf Schrödinger, a cerecloth producer and botanist, and Georgina Emilia Brenda. He married Annemarie Bertel, the daughter of Alexander Bauer, his Professor of Chemistry at the Technical College of Vienna, on April 6, 1920. As well as his interests in science, he enjoyed painting--having spent several years devoted to Italian painting--poetry and theatre and often retreated to these activities. He died on January 4, 1961 due to Tuberculosis at the age of 73. He was buried at Alpach in Austria and was survived by his widow Annemarie.

Early Years

He began his academic studies at the Akadmishes Gymnasium in 1898 where he loved both chemistry and German poetry. From 1906 to 1910 he studied at the University of Vienna. At Vienna he came under the influence of Fritz Hasenhöhrl, Boltzmann’s successor, and studied with Franz Serafin Exner. During his years at Vienna, he acquired a mastery of eigenvalue, the factor by which a linear transformation multiplies one of its eigenvectors. Starting in 1911, he worked as an assistant to Franz Exner up until World War One.

World War I

During World War One he served in the Austria-Hungary Military. He completed his military training and served as a reserve artillery officer. He made it to the rank of Fahnrich which is one level below lieutenant before leaving the military.

Post War

After the war, in 1920, he became assistant to Max Wien. That same year he obtained a position as Ausserordentlicher (Associate) Professor and became an Ordentlicher (full) Professor in 1921. He taught at the University of Zurich for the next six years. While in Zurich, he published many papers on many subjects including thermodynamics and atomic spectra. He published his paper “Quantization as an Eigenvalue Problem” in the Annalen der Physik. This paper discussed wave mechanics and his now famous equation, Schrödinger’s wave equation. In 1927 he moved to Humboldt-University in Berlin as Max Planck’s successor. In 1933 he left Germany due to his political disagreement with the Nazi Party. That same year he became a part of a fellowship in Magdalen College, University of Oxford, and received a Nobel Prize with Paul Dirac for work on Bohr’s orbit theory and his belief that an eigenvalue problem should determine atomic spectra. He turned down an offer to teach at Princeton in 1934, but he accepted a position at University of Graz in 1936. After fleeing Austria due to political disruption from the first time he left, he moved to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin. There he was Director of the School for Theoretical Physics. He stayed until he retired in 1955. During this time he published 50 papers on various subjects.


During his retirement he continued his research. In 1944 he published What is Life? This book gave James D. Watson the inspiration to study the gene, which lead to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.

Schrödinger's cat

Schrödinger's cat is one of Dr.Erwin Schrödinger's most famous paradoxical thought experiments, attempting to illustrate the incompleteness of the theory of quantum mechanics when going from subatomic to macroscopic systems. The experiment involves a cat in a sealed box. Inside the box is a vial of cyanide, a detector and a radioactive material. Should any nucleus decay, the detector opens the vial and the cat dies. After one hour, the box is opened. But before doing so, the fate of the cat is uncertain, and therefore, the cat is described as being dead and alive simultaneously.

Sources: Nobel Lectures. Physics 1922-1941, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1965

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