January 4, 1961: Austrian Erwin Schrödinger, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, dies

Erwin Schrödinger was a theoretical physicist Austrian, whose contributions to atomic theory they earned him the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with British physicist Paul Dirac. Born in 1887, he began his career at the University of Vienna, where he received his doctorate in Physics in 1910 and began working as a researcher and teacher. After serving as soldier of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, in 1921 he went to the University of Zurich, where developing one of his most important scientific contributions: wave function equation.

His work earned him Market Stall of the recently retired Max Planck, father of quantum theory, at the University of Berlin, where he coincided with Albert Einstein. In 1933, Schrödinger decided Leave Germany because of its differences with the new Nazi regime, and during the following years he investigated at the universities of Oxford, Ghent or Rome, until in 1940 it was established in Dublin to work at the Institute for Advanced Study. There, he became an Irish citizen and he was interested for molecular biology and the philosophy and history of science.

In 1956 went back to Vienna and continued studying mathematical physics and relativity, and seeking the grand unification theory, which aims to fit the assumptions of classical physics with those of quantum. Schrödinger he died on January 4, 1961 at the age of 73 due to tuberculosis, and in his book My conception of the world, published posthumously, tells his view of philosophy and metaphysics.

Scientific work: molecular biology and quantum mechanics

Although he worked primarily in theoretical physics, one of Erwin Schrödinger’s most valuable contributions came from his study of molecules in the 1940s. Although the DNA already He was known since 1869, its structure had not yet been unraveled or its paper in genetics. Through his book What is life?, from 1944, Schrödinger was first in pointing to the existence of the genetic code, inspiring the scientists who would decipher it.

However, his greatest scientific contribution was in 1925: the wave function equation or Schrödinger equation, basic to study quantum mechanics. This equation allows decipher the wave function of a quantum system, that is, it calculates the probability that a particle is in a place or at a certain time. Is fundamental to work on a quantum scale, as much as the second law of Newton, which describes the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration, to determine the motion of macroscopic objects.

The difference is that, due to the characteristics of the quantum world, the behavior of the particles cannot be known with precision, just the probability that they will do it one way or another. The use of probability, together with the Copenhagen interpretation quantum physics, bothered Schrödinger and other physicists, who they rejected that the operation of the quantum contradicted the laws of classical physics that describe the macroscopic world.

Schrödinger’s famous cat

Although it defies logic, the Copenhagen interpretation understands that the particles They behave as waves and corpuscles at the same time, which is known as “overlap”, until they are observed. Doing so causes the “collapse”, that is to say, that they adopt one form or another. To refute this interpretation of quantum principles, Schrödinger created the cat paradox in 1935, a thought experiment that made him famous and is already part of the popular culture.

The exercise raises a cat locked in a box with a mechanism that releases a poison if it detects the energy of a particle as it disintegrates. There is a 50% chance that the particle will disintegrate, the mechanism will be activated and the cat will die, and another 50% that it will not occur and the cat will live. By the principle of superposition, the particle can be in several states at the same time, so the sensor may or may not have been activated, and the cat is both alive and dead. Only when you open up and watch is one of those two options forced to collapse.

For Schrödinger, this showed that the Copenhagen interpretation was paradoxical, since it is impossible to superimpose life and death. However, this does not mean that quantum principles are false, as they are demonstrable, although they do not fit with classical physics. In the end, Schrödinger’s experiment has become one of the most useful ways to explain them and to pose the search for the grand unification theory, and thus propose that the macroscopic cat and the quantum particle respond to the same laws.

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January 4, 1961: Austrian Erwin Schrödinger, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, dies