Physics

“A very pretty theory”

How Erwin Schrödinger revolutionized physics during a Christmas holiday in Arosa in 1925.

Thomas Gull

Erwin Schrödinger spent his christmas holidays at Villa Frisia (right) in Arosa. (Video: Thomas Gull, Stephan Läuppi. Im German)

 

It’s Christmas 1925, and Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger is spending a few days in Arosa to relax, taking time out from his duties as professor of theoretical physics at UZH. Upon his return to Zurich, the physicist tells a colleague that he had barely gone skiing because he had been working on “a few calculations.” These “calculations” concern a new atomic theory, which had been on his mind for the past months. In Arosa, Schrödinger makes the decisive breakthrough: He is the first to draw up a wave equation, which will go down in physics history as the Schrödinger equation.

His equation revolutionizes atomic physics. He is applauded by his fellow physicists – “the idea behind your work is proof of true genius!” (Albert Einstein), and J. Robert Oppenheimer praises: “Here’s this very pretty theory, possibly one of the most perfect, accurate, and beautiful theories ever developed by humankind” – and goes on to win the Nobel Prize in 1933.

Schrödinger’s fateful days are depicted in the short film “Eros & Atome”, in which Laura Badis, professor of physics at UZH, explains the significance of Schrödinger’s groundbreaking theory for physics. The film is part of the exhibition “Erwin Schrödinger & Thomas Mann – Lebenswende in Arosa”, which will be on show until April 2018 in the museum of local history in Arosa.

 

Thomas Gull, editor UZH Magazin

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