Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger is known as the father of quantum physics. He was born in Austria in 1887 to a family with a scientific background. He showed great intellectual ability from childhood and was good not just in physics and math but also in languages and had an interest in philosophy. When we think of Schrödinger, the Schrödinger’s wave equation and his famous thought experiment, called Schrödinger’s cat, comes to mind. But apart from the cat thing, there are also some lesser-known yet interesting facts about his life such as…..
He was born in a religious household and his parents were Protestants but from an early age he was an atheist and a philosopher. He was influenced greatly by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. He read Schopenhauer’s works extensively and believed in the mind over matter philosophy through out his life.
He was a brilliant student and was homeschooled till the age of 11. He then studied at Vienna’s Akademisches Gymnasium and later at the University of Vienna. In the university he met and was greatly influenced by another physicist, Fritz Hasenöhrl. He got his PhD in physics 1910 at the age of 23 and subsequently established himself as one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time.
The famous thought experiment called Schrödinger’s cat talks about a cat inside a box with a vile of poison that can be opened by the trigger of a decaying electron. Since we don’t know when, if at all, the electron has decayed, we can’t be sure whether the cat is dead or alive. So in a way we can say that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.
The Schrödinger equation changed the way scientists looked at particles and allowed them to predict the motion of the particles through wave mechanics. He wrote this thesis while recovering from tuberculosis in a sanatorium in Arosa. He suffered from tuberculosis many times in his life but it also gave him the time to write his greatest work.
He was forced to abandon his studies and join the Austrian-Hungarian army during the First World War. After the war he took up many teaching positions in universities such as the University of Stuttgart, University of Jena, University of Breslau, University of Berlin and the University of Zurich. He was against the anti Semitic sentiment rising in the area and eventually left Germany on the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Party.
When he left the University of Berlin to join Oxford he learned that he had won the Nobel Prize for physics of 1933. He shared the Nobel Prize with another physicist, Paul A.M. Dirac. In his speech he mentioned that his friend and mentor Fritz Hasenöhrl would have been accepting the award if he hadn’t died in the First World War.
Schrödinger had to relocate many times to find a country that would give him a job and be tolerant of his views. In 1939 he was invited to work at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Dublin by the Irish Prime Minister. He stayed in Dublin till the mid 1950’s and had an Irish passport.
He received many accolades during his life time for his contribution to science and to the world in general. Apart from the Nobel Prize he also won the Max Planck Medal in 1937. As a homage to his work a crater on the dark side of the moon is named large crater Schrödinger.
One of the great works of his later life is the book called “What is Life?” In this book Schrödinger tried to answer the question of where life comes from by looking at it from the perspective of physics. In this book he talked about an “aperiodic crystal” that contained all the genetic information required to reproduce life which later inspired the discovery of the genetic molecule.
Through out his life his inclination towards philosophy was strong. He understood that the purpose of science is to try to reach the metaphorical godhead. He was particularly interested in the eastern spiritual traditions and believed in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism that there was a universal consciousness that gave birth to the individual consciousness.