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Werner Heisenberg

1901 - 1976

Werner Heisenberg

Werner was credited along with Erwin Schrodinger with the derivation of quantum mechanics. Erwin did his derivation by combining de Broglie's discovery of the wave-like behavior of particles with the equations for standing waves and hey, presto! he ended up with the famous Schrodinger equation. Werner did his derivation by postulating the uncertainty principle onto the equations of mechanics. Both men got Nobel prizes, Werner in 1933 and Erwin (along with Paul Dirac) in 1934. Werner and Paul were both only 32 years old when they got their prizes; Erwin a mature 45. Of course, Erwin might have also been a bit occupied with his diddling around.

It's not true, as some may say, that Albert Einstein thought quantum mechanics was wrong. He thought it was incomplete. What Albert didn't like was the probabilistic tenor of quantum theory. "God does not play dice with the universe," Albert intoned. But Albert's friend, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, said perhaps Albert shouldn't be trying to tell God how to run things.

At the same time maybe we shouldn't be too hard on Albert. After all, if you think out various thought experiments from quantum mechanics you'll end up coming up with some really oddball predictions. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately) whenever technology gets around to catching up with the thought experiments, by golly, the results you get are just what quantum theory says. It's what Richard Feynman said. No one really understands quantum mechanics. But the one undeniable fact is that it's true.

On the other hands, some of the various "interpretations" of quantum mechanics often drift into the realm of metaphysics and really don't have much with using the theory - not if you want to calculate the electronic transitions of an exited state atom or the internal energy and vibrational spectrum of a molecule. It's been pointed out that many of the interpretations are untestable and so fall short of the criterion for being a real scientific theory. But for quite a while that was the case with a lot of quantum theory as well.

This picture was homework for an art class. One of the students asked who it was. I said I thought it was Heisenberg, but I wasn't certain.