Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking

By William H. Cropper | Go to book overview

19
Wave Mechanics
Erwin Schrödinger and Louis de Broglie

Hopes and Fears

Paul Dirac has offered the opinion that his fellow theorists are guided not only by their hopes, but just as importantly, by their fears. Theoretical researchers find it hard, he says, to ignore fears that their work contains hidden, possibly disastrous, flaws; and their thoughts, influenced by this worry, are not so logical as they might be: “You might think a good research worker would review the situation quite calmly and unemotionally and with a completely logical mind, and proceed to develop whatever ideas he has in an entirely rational way. This is far from being the case. The research worker is only human and, if he has great hopes, he also has great fears…. As a result, his course of action is very much disturbed. He is not able to fix his attention on the correct line of development.”

If there was a fundamental fear threatening the development of quantum theory during its first two decades, it was the concept of wave-particle duality, demanded because light can appear to be wavelike in certain experiments and particle-like in others. Einstein was among the first to face the duality mystery. In spite of long-established experimental and theoretical evidence for light as waves, Einstein proposed a particle theory of light to explain puzzling features of the photoelectric effect. Einstein's equation E = hv for the energy E of a light particle or photon casually introduces the duality theme: the equation combines E, a property of light as a particle, with the frequency v, a property of light as a wave.

From the logical viewpoint, this was a paradox, which hardly any theoretician but Einstein had the courage to confront. How could light be two essentially different things, wave and particle, at the same time? The duality seemed to be a threat, a “fundamental blemish” that might, if pushed too far, bring the entire theoretical edifice crashing down.

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Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • I - Historical Synopsis 3
  • 1 - How the Heavens Go 5
  • 2 - A Man Obsessed 18
  • II - Historical Synopsis 41
  • 3 - A Tale of Two Revolutions 43
  • 4 - On the Dark Side 51
  • 5 - A Holy Undertaking 59
  • 6 - Unities and a Unifier 71
  • 7 - The Scientist as Virtuoso 78
  • 8 - The Road to Entropy 93
  • 9 - The Greatest Simplicity 106
  • 10 - The Last Law 124
  • III - Historical Synopsis 135
  • 11 - A Force of Nature 137
  • 12 - The Scientist as Magician 154
  • IV - Historical Synopsis 177
  • 13 - Molecules and Entropy 179
  • V - Historical Synopsis 201
  • 14 - Adventure in Thought 203
  • VI - Historical Synopsis 229
  • 15 - Reluctant Revolutionary 231
  • 16 - Science by Conversation 242
  • 17 - The Scientist as Critic 256
  • 18 - Matrix Mechanics 263
  • 19 - Wave Mechanics 275
  • VII - Historical Synopsis 293
  • 20 - Opening Doors 295
  • 21 - On the Crest of a Wave 308
  • 22 - Physics and Friendships 330
  • 23 - Complete Physicist 344
  • VIII - Historical Synopsis 363
  • 24 - Iγ·∂ψ = Mψ 365
  • 25 - What Do You Care? 376
  • 26 - Telling the Tale of the Quarks 403
  • IX - Historical Synopsis 421
  • 27 - Beyond the Galaxy 423
  • 28 - Ideal Scholar 438
  • 29 - Affliction, Fame, and Fortune 452
  • Chronology of the Main Events 464
  • Glossary 469
  • Invitation to More Reading 478
  • Index 485
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