Erwin Schrödinger: Discoverer of the Wave Equation for Electron Movements
Erwin Schrödinger was born in Vienna, Austria, on August 12, 1887, to botanist and oil cloth mill owner Rudolf Schrödinger and Georgine Emilia Brenda, daughter of Alexander Bauer, Rudolf's chemistry professor at the Technical College of Vienna (Technische Hochschule Vienna). Schrödinger was taught at home by private teachers until he was 11 and then attended Vienna's Akademisches Gymnasium. He went on to study physics at the University of Vienna, where he was greatly influenced by another young physicist, Fritz Hasenöhrl.
After receiving his PhD in 1910, he worked as an assistant at the university for a few years until being inducted into World War I in 1914, serving as an artillery officer with Austro-Hungarian military troops in Italy. Schrödinger married Annemarie Bertel in 1920 after returning to civilian life. Before joining the University of Zurich in 1921, he held faculty/staff positions at the University of Stuttgart, the University of Jena, and the University of Breslau.
Schrödinger's six-year employment as a professor at the University of Zurich would be one of the most pivotal periods of his physics career. In 1925, while immersed in various theoretical physics studies, Schrödinger stumbled upon the work of fellow physicist Louis de Broglie. De Broglie suggested a theory of wave mechanics in his 1924 thesis. This piqued Schrödinger's curiosity in describing how an electron in an atom moves like a wave. The following year, he published a groundbreaking work that highlighted what became known as the Schrödinger wave equation.
Schrödinger articulated electron movements in terms of wave mechanics rather than particle leaps, based on Niels Bohr's atomic model and a de Broglie thesis. He gave scientists a way of thinking that was accepted and incorporated into thousands of papers, becoming an essential cornerstone of quantum theory. Schrödinger made this discovery in his late 30s, whereas most theoretical physicists made revolutionary discoveries in their twenties.
Schrödinger left Zurich in 1927 for a new, renowned position at the University of Berlin, where he met Albert Einstein. He held this office until 1933 when he resigned in protest against the advent of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party and the subsequent persecution of Jewish persons. Schrödinger received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, shortly after joining the faculty of Oxford University in England, together with another quantum theorist, Paul A.M. Dirac. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Schrödinger remarked that if his mentor, Hasenöhrl, had not died during World War I, he would have accepted the honour.
Schrödinger spent three years at Oxford, then travelled and worked in many locations, including Austria, at the University of Graz. In 1939, he was invited by Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera to lead the School of Theoretical Physics at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin, Ireland. He stayed in Dublin until the mid-1950s before returning to Vienna in 1956 to resume his career at the University of Vienna.
Schrödinger's important book What Is Life? an attempt to combine quantum physics with biology, was published in 1944. He was also well-versed in philosophy and metaphysics, as indicated by his books Nature and the Greeks (1954), which examined ancient belief systems and inquiry, and My View of the World (1961), inspired by Vedanta and explored belief in a unified consciousness. Schrödinger died on January 4, 1961, in Vienna, his homeland. Professor Walter J. Moore wrote a biography of him, Schrödinger: Life and Thought, in 1989.