DYK-01 Pauli's Reaction to Discovery of Matrix Mechanics

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For all we know, Pauli might have wished that he had participated in this game\footnote { Game refers  to discovery of matrix mechanics by Born,
Heisenberg and  Jordan.} ; as it was, he remained a spectator of this development until he appointed himself its referee. As a critic of the formal approach, he sent blasts of sarcasm in letters to Heisenberg and Kronig, then at Copenhagen, against the methods of Born, Heisenberg and Jordan.$^{56}$ On reading these, Heisenberg, for the first time irritated by Pauli, wrote to him in the middle of October $1925$: 'Your eternal reviling of Copenhagen and G\"{o}ttingen is a flagrant scandal. You will have to allow that, in any case, we are not seeking to ruin physics out of malicious intent. When you reproach us that we are such big donkeys that we have never produced anything new physically, it may well be true. But then, you are also an equally big jackass because you have not accomplished it either.$^{61}$

These words probably touched Pauli deep enough. He took up the problem of the hydrogen atom and solved it within the next few weeks by means of matrix methods, employing all the formal mathematical learning against which he had complained earlier. He made an ingenious application of the integration method which Wilhelm Lenz had used earlier for determining the effect of crossed electric and magnetic fields on the energy states of the hydrogen atom in the Bohr-Sommerfeld theory.$^{62}$ With the help of the 'Lenz vector' Pauli obtained the Balmer formula and showed how the situation with respect to the forbidden orbits could now be understood naturally.$^{63}$ It was exactly two  years since Pauli had first seriously doubted Bohr's theory of the hydrogen atom, and now one had come round a full circle. This was indeed a triumphant moment for the new quantum mechanics, and Niels Bohr celebrated it by writing another letter to Rutherford, informing him that the reasons for his misery in he previous spring had now disappeared.$^{64}$


  1. Jagdish Mehra, ``Birth of Quantum Mechanics''
    Werner Heisenberg Memorial Lecture (CERN Colloquium on 30 March 1976)
    CERN Yellow Report 76-10

  2. References 56, 61, 62 appearing here are to correspondences between Pauli and others.

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