Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger, typically only referred to as Schrödinger, was born on the 12th of August in 1887 in Vienna, Austria. His father was a botanist and his grandfather (on his mother’s side) a professor of chemistry. He was an only child but had many aunts to make up for the absence of siblings. In fact, his aunt Minnie taught him English at a young age.
He passed his gymnasium examination and entered the Akademisches Gymnasium at the age of eleven. At this institution, he was taught classical subjects such as Latin and Greek. Mathematics and sciences, on the other hand, had fewer class hours. Perhaps his gymnasium education is what led to Schrödinger valuing philosophy and the humanities as well as the sciences. Up until his graduation in 1906, Schrödinger was always first in his class. He took an interest in studying outside of the curriculum as well.
After completing his education at the Akademisches Gymnasium, Schrödinger enrolled in the University of Vienna. He worked under Franz S. Exner on the topics of atmospheric electricity, radioactivity, crystal physics, spectroscopy, and the science of color. His academic excellence at the gymnasium continued throughout higher education. Despite already being set on theoretical physics, his course with Fritz Hasenöhrl led him to have an even deeper appreciation of the subject. He was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree in physics on the 20th of May 1910. His dissertation was titled “On the conduction of electricity on the surface of insulators in moist air”. Following his graduation, he served time in the military, as was required in Austria-Hungary.
Schrödinger was appointed to the position of assistantship in experimental physics under the direction of Franz Exner. He was also supervised by Fritz Kohlrausch. This position gave him access to a variety of laboratory equipment.
His first theoretical paper was titled “On the Kinetic Theory of Magnetism”, which he presented to the Vienna Academy in June 1912. Another one of his papers in 1912 was called “Studies on the Kinetics of Dielectrics, the Melting Point, Pyro- and Piezo Electricity”. Schrödinger successfully applied to a higher academic position (called Privatdozent) using these papers.
In March 2014, he sent a prestigious German physics journal one of his articles titled “On the Dynamics of Elastically Coupled Point Systems”, which became one of his significant publications. After a few months, Schrödinger had to (for the most part) put his academic work on hold in order to serve in the military for World War I. For a short time during the war, he was able to do some theoretical work.
In 1921, he started working at the University of Zurich and remained there for the next 6 years. During the academic year of 1925/26, he made a remarkable discovery that would forever change the field of physics. It is now called the Schrödinger equation. This equation laid the groundwork for the emergence of quantum mechanics. Then, in 1933, he and Paul Dirac, another famous physicist, received the Nobel Prize for this work.
Schrödinger, however, was quite disturbed with the implications of quantum mechanics, even working on objections to the theory, which led to the very well-known Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment.
Schrödinger continued his academic work in various universities such as the University of Berlin, the University of Oxford, and Ghent University in Belgium. Finally in 1940, he became a part of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and worked there for 15 years. He published his book “What is Life?” in 1944. He returned to his alma mater as professor emeritus in 1956. After battling tuberculosis, Erwin Schrödinger died of the disease on January 4th 1961, survived by his wife Annemarie (Bertel) Schrödinger.
Bernstein, Jeremy. “Erwin Schrödinger.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., August 8, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Erwin-Schrodinger.
Moore, Walter John. Schrödinger: Life and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Figure 1: Moore, Walter John. Schrödinger: Life and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Figure 2: “The Nobel Prize in Physics 1933.” NobelPrize.org. Accessed August 11, 2020. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1933/schrodinger/biographical/.