25 Apr, 2021

Wolfgang Pauli – physicist, quantum mechanics

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was born on April 25, 1900 in Vienna, in the family of a doctor, professor of chemistry. While still in high school, he showed outstanding mathematical abilities and began to study higher mathematics on his own, so he immediately read the just published work of A. Einstein on the theory of relativity.

Pauli’s first work was published in 1918 and was devoted to mathematical issues of the unified theory of gravity and electromagnetism. In the same year he entered the University of Munich, where he studied under the guidance of the famous physicist A. Sommerfeld, and at whose request, in 1920, he began working on a large article on the theory of relativity for the Encyclopedia of Mathematical Sciences. Subsequently, this article was published many times in the form of a book, and its translations have appeared in many countries.

In 1921, having defended his doctoral dissertation, Pauli went to the University of Göttingen, where he worked under the guidance of the “teacher of geniuses” M. Born at the Department of Theoretical Physics. It was during these years that a matrix formulation of quantum mechanics and a new – statistical – interpretation of it were born in Göttingen.

The work under the guidance of renowned scientists awakened Pauli’s interest in a new field of physics – quantum theory, and he completely immersed himself in the problems that physicists faced in this field. Already from his university years, Wolfgang paid more attention to the problem of atoms and spectra, and in 1924 these studies led him to the formulation of one of the most important laws of the physics of the microworld – to the principle that bears his name.

Pauli’s exclusion principle plays a fundamental role in understanding the structure and behavior of atoms, atomic nuclei, the properties of metals and other physical phenomena. He explains the chemical interaction of elements and their previously incomprehensible arrangement in the periodic table. The scientist himself used this principle to understand the magnetic properties of simple metals and some gases.

In subsequent years, Pauli taught in Copenhagen and Hamburg, and in 1928 he became a professor at the Higher Technical School in Zurich, where he remained until the end of his life, with the exception of a few years spent in the United States, when he lectured at the Institute for Fundamental Research in Princeton. and headed the Department of Theoretical Physics.

In 1945, the scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of the exclusion principle.” Also associated with his name is such a fundamental concept as the spin of an elementary particle, he predicted the existence of neutrinos. Pauli was awarded the medals of H. Lorenz, B. Franklin and M. Planck, was a member of the Swiss and American Physical Societies, the American Association for Basic Sciences, and also a foreign member of the Royal Society of London.

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli died on December 15, 1958 in Zurich.