Wolfgang Pauli


Wolfgang Pauli was born on April 25th, 1900 in Vienna. He received his early education in Vienna before studying at the University of Munich under Arnold Sommerfeld. He obtained his doctor’s degree in 1921 and spent a year at the University of Göttingen as assistant to Max Born and a further year with Niels Bohr at Copenhagen. The years 1923-1928 were spent as a lecturer at the University of Hamburg before his appointment as Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. During 1935-1936, he was visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey and he had similar appointments at the University of Michigan (1931 and 1941) and Purdue University (1942). He was elected to the Chair of Theoretical Physics at Princeton in 1940 but he returned to Zurich at the end of World War II.

Pauli was outstanding among the brilliant mid-twentieth century school of physicists. He was recognized as one of the leaders when, barely out of his teens and still a student, he published a masterly exposition of the theory of relativity. His exclusion principle, which is often quoted bearing his name, crystallized the existing knowledge of atomic structure at the time it was postulated and it led to the recognition of the two-valued variable required to characterize the state of an electron. Pauli was the first to recognize the existence of the neutrino, an uncharged and massless particle which carries off energy in radioactive ß-disintegration; this came at the beginning of a great decade, prior to World War II, for his centre of research in theoretical physics at Zurich.Pauli helped to lay the foundations of the quantum theory of fields and he participated actively in the great advances made in this domain around 1945. Earlier, he had further consolidated field theory by giving proof of the relationship between spin and”statistics” of elementary particles. He has written many articles on problems of theoretical physics, mostly quantum mechanics, in scientific journals of many countries; his Theory of Relativity appears in theEnzyklopaedie der Mathematischen Wissenschaften, Volume 5, Part 2 (1920), his Quantum Theory in Handbuch der Physik, Vol. 23 (1926), and his Principles of Wave Mechanics inHandbuch der Physik, Vol. 24 (1933).

Pauli was a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London and a member of the Swiss Physical Society, the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1930.
In 1924 Pauli proposed a quantum spin number for electrons. He is best known for the Pauli exclusion principle , proposed in 1925, which states that no two electrons in an atom can have the same four quantum numbers. Less than a year after this Heisenberg submitted his article on quantum mechanics which was to change the whole approach to the topic. Pauli, who before that had begun to feel that further advances could not be made with the theory as it then existed, quickly made progress using Heisenberg’s new ideas and before the end of 1925 he had derived the hydrogen spectrum from the new theory.The year 1927 saw personal tragedy for Pauli when his mother, to whom he had been very close, committed suicide. In the following year his father remarried making an even more unhappy situation for Pauli who referred to his father’s new wife as “the evil step-mother”. On 6 May 1929 Pauli left the Roman Catholic Church, but his reasons for this are not entirely clear. Further unhappiness was to follow when he married Käthe Margarethe Deppner in Berlin on 23 December 1929. The marriage was never a success, even in the first few months, and they were divorced in Vienna on 29 November 1930.Despite the personal problems, Pauli’s career progressed well. In 1928 he was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and soon made some remarkable progress. He predicted mathematically, in 1931, that conservation laws required the existence of a new particle which he proposed to call the “neutron”. He first mentioned his theoretical evidence for this particle in a letter written on 4 December 1930 and his public announcement came at a conference in Pasadena on 16 June 1931
Wolfgang Pauli married Franciska Bertram on April 4th, 1934.He died in Zurich on December 15th, 1958.


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