Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Schrödinger -- Painting

I've been reading "Schrödinger: Life and Thought" by Walter Moore, an excellent biography. Schrödinger was an unusual scientist. Very bright and always top of the class in maths and physics, he was appointed to Einstein's chair in Zurich but, as Moore observes, by age 37 - in 1924 - he had accomplished much that was competent but nothing earth-shattering. If he had died at that point, he would have been a mere footnote in physics history.

The event which propelled him to immortality was his development of his eponymous wave equation over the Christmas of 1925. According to Moore, Schrodinger guessed it based on his deep knowledge of classical physics and more immediately the thesis work of Louis de Broglie. The equation is simple, but its consequences explain much.

Turning his equation upon the leading question of the day, the spectrum of hydrogen, Schrödinger found the energy eigenfunction/eigenvalue calculations easy but didn't know how to solve the radial differential equation until Hermann Weyl told him in early January 1926. Given that Schrödinger was incredibly bright, hard-working and experienced at this stage of his life, Moore finds this surprising.

It is slightly scary to realise just how much maths and physics need to be in your head before you have the tools to make any kind of breakthrough. It must be even harder today, when there is so much more to select from.

Family News

My mother stayed with us from last Friday to yesterday in Andover, giving a chance for Elaine and Chris to paint her house in Bristol on Monday. We took my mother back yesterday and completed the job. Here are some pictures - click on them to make larger.

Painting the upper hall

Beryl Seel coping in the chaos

It's great when it's mostly finished!