Erwin Schrodinger – Nobel Physicist who lived in Dublin

Erwin Schrodinger

Erwin Schrödinger

For a man interested in colour and who published scientific papers on the subject, the adjective colourful applies to Erwin Schrödinger who lived on Kincora Road, Clontarf  for seventeen years and certainly left his mark. Among his many achievements here was a series of lectures given in Trinity College in February 1943 on ‘What is life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell.’ This was inspirational to many scientists, most notably James Watson and Francis Crick whose work led to the discovery of DNA in 1953. A sculpture commemorating the achievement was unveiled on its 60th anniversary in the Botanic Gardens which James Watson attended.

Schrödinger was an only child born in Vienna in 1887 to middle-class, educated parents and was tutored at home until the age of eleven. Later he attended school, then university where he excelled and gained a PhD in Physics. World War I interrupted his progress and he spent it as an officer in the Austrian army.

DNA sculpture in Botanic Gardens

DNA sculpture in Botanic Gardens

After the war he had a number of different positions, married Annemarie (Anny) Bertel in 1920, before he was offered the chair in Theoretical Physics at the University of Zürich in 1921. He stayed there for six years, probably the most productive time in his career, before being offered the post of Max Planck’s replacement at the prestigious University of Berlin. And it was during his time in Zürich that he became interested in wave mechanics after reading a paper by Albert Einstein. Thinking about how to explain the movement of an electron as a wave his 1926 paper provided a theoretical basis for the atomic model. His groundbreaking work is hailed as a masterpiece, and one of the greatest accomplishments ever in in science. It subsequently led to new insights into quantum mechanics and other areas of chemistry. In 1933 both he and Paul Dirac (Cambridge University) were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ is his famous thought experiment that illustrates the problem of the interpretation of quantum mechanics when applied to everyday objects.

DIAS - Burlington Road

DIAS – Burlington Road

By that time he was aware that many of his Jewish colleagues were being dismissed from their posts and he decided to leave Hitler’s Germany. He went to Oxford University for three years before returning to Austria in 1938. The following year he accepted Eamon de Valera’s offer of coming to Ireland and helping establish the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS). De Valera, himself a mathematician, got ‘his man’ and made sure that Schrodinger’s visa arrangements were processed speedily. For Schrodinger’s needs were indeed complicated and had previously stymied him at both Princeton and Oxford, as he lived with his wife and his lover, Hilde March, with whom he had a daughter. Of his relationship with the fairer sex he said: ‘Poor things, they have provided for my life’s happiness and their own distress. Such is life.’ Colourful indeed.

Plaque in Kincora Road, Clontarf

Plaque in Kincora Road, Clontarf

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