He haunts physics textbooks. His cat is featured on T-shirts. He won a Nobel Prize.
Who is he? A newly digitized manuscript collection can help us find out!
Although Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887 – 1961) addressed topics from DNA to color theory, he is best known for his contributions to quantum mechanics, the study of matter and energy on an electron-size scale. Four letters, a galley proof, and an envelope in SIL’s Dibner Library provide insight into his daily life.
An English letter to autograph collector Howes Norris, Jr. describes Schrödinger’s conception of knowledge and the human mind, in addition to offering advice for students nervous about exams. Since the mind contains knowledge “virtually, not actually, in the same way as the flint contains the spark,” an examiner should “act on them [students] as the steel does on the flint to display their virtual knowledge.” Next time you start to sweat about finals, remember Schrödinger’s take on the situation!
In three letters to friend and fellow physicist Hans Thirring, Schrödinger discusses his work, his plans, his travels, and a student. Thirring (1888 – 1976) studied physics in Austria, in addition to advocating pacificism and participating in Parliament.
The galley proof (copy of a text headed for publication and corrected by an editor) was to become part of a book. Alternating texts and equations discuss the application of wave mechanics to specific heats, the amounts of energy needed to raise the temperature of an amount of various substances by one degree Celsius.
Manuscripts like these catapult scientific giants like Schrödinger out of textbooks and into real life.
(Curious about the cat? Along with the equation that earned him a Nobel Prize, Schrödinger’s cat is one of the ideas for which the physicist is best known. You can find a description of the feline here and the merchandise it inspired here and here.)
– Nicole Yunger Halpern, Dibner Library intern