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A short Summary about the History of Theoretical Physics in Göttingen

Already since 1849 both of the full chairs of the physics department in Göttingen (Weber, Listing) have been corresponding with nearly the division into experimental and theoretical physics.

Woldemar Voigt
The department of ''Mathematical Physics'' of the Institute of Physics was led by such famous physicists like Voigt (1850 - 19919, since 1883 in Göttingen), Debye (1884 - 1966, in Göttingen 1914 - 1920) and Born (1882 - 1970, in Göttingen 1921 - 1933). 1922 it was renamed under the leading of Max Born into ''Institute for Theoretical Physics''.

Max Born (ca. 1925)
The theoretical physics in Göttingen culminated with Max Born and his colleagues because of their fundamental participation in the creation and completion of quantum mechanics (1925 - 1927). After the introduction of the energy quantum by Planck's and Einstein's idea of the quantumlike nature of light the former atomic mechanics explained the atomic spectrums with the help of Bohr's graphical atomic model. For example, the discrete lines of the hydrogen atom should result from electron leaps from one of its allowed orbits around the atomic nucleus to another one, by releasing energy in discrete portions.

Werner Heisenberg (ca. 1926)

Heisenberg concluded from the observable energy spectrum of atoms a mathematical formalism which allowed to calculate observable quantities like frequency, intensity and polarisation of radiation without any reverting to a model. Born saw the underlying mathematical structure (matrixes, operators) and refined them to the quantum mechanics together with his younger colleagues Heisenberg and Jordan.

At the same time Schrödinger evolved the so-called wave mechanics, which should describe waves of matter according to the theory of von de Broglie.

However, Born showed, that Schrödinger's wave function is combined with a probability interpretation, which explains the probability of staying for the position of the particle. Born's probability interpretation and Heisenberg's uncertainty relation changed our understanding of nature in a revolutionary way.

Max Born as well as Werner Heisenberg were awarded with the Nobel prize (1954 or 1932).

Wave mechanical pictures of the hydrogen atom in four various stimulation conditions:
The luminosity corresponds to a measure of the probability density to meet an electron on this position.

Maria Göppert-Mayer
Reading the names of former colleagues of the Institute like Pauli, Hückel, Nordheim, Fermi, London, Hund, Heitler, Fock, Wigner, Herzberg, Mrs. Göppert-Mayer, Ehrenfest, Oppenheimer, Delbrück, Weißkopf, Bloch and Teller (among other not less famous persons), we can imagine the golden years of the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Göttingen.

Max Reich, Max Born,
James Frank, Robert Pohl
We cannot forget the interaction with experimental physicists like Franck and Pohl as well as with the mathematicians Hilbert and Weyl.

With the seizure of power of the National Socialists this heyday came to an abrupt end. R. Becker (in Göttingen 1936 - 1955) and F. Hund tried successfully that the institute gained importance again.

In the meantime it was clear that the basic research of the twenties was used for life-exterminational measures in form of nuclear weapons. So 1957 prominent German scientists, among these apart from Otto Hahn, Max von Laue and Carl-Friedrich von Weizäcker also the "old" Göttinger Max Born and Werner Heisenberg, joined to the "Göttinger Declaration" against the nuclear arming of the Federal Armed Forces and against the global nuclear armaments.


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Last modified: Thu Dec 6 12:52:22 CET 2001