Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Max Born (1882-1970)
If God has made the world a perfect mechanism, He has at least conceded so much to our imperfect intellect that in order to predict little parts of it, we need not solve innumerable differential equations, but can use dice with fair success.
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Born was the son of an embryologist, a professor of anatomy at the University of Breslau. He was educated at the universities of Breslau, Heidelberg, Zurich and Gottingen. he taught at Gottingen from 1909 until 1933. With the rise of Hitler he moved to Britain, served as professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh from 1936. He returned to Germany on his retirement in 1953. Born is noted for his role in the development of the new quantum theory. Together with Pasqual Jordan, he developed the matrix mechanics introduced by Werner Heisenberg. He also showed how to interpret the theoretical results of Louis de Broglie and the experiments of such people as Clinton J. Davisson, which showed that particles have wavelike behavior. At the time, it was known that in some circumstances light, electrons, etc., behaved as waves whereas in others they acted like particles. Erwin Schrodinger, who developed wave mechanics, interpreted particles as "wave packets", but this was unsatisfacory because such packets would dissipate in time. Born's interpretation was that the particles exist but are "guided" by a wave. At any point, the amplitude (actually the square of the amplitude) indicates the probability of finding a particle there. An essential part of this idea of electrons, atoms, etc., is that it depends on probability - there is no predetermined way in which absolute predictions can be made, as in classical physics. A similar result is embodied in the uncertainty principle of Werner Heisenberg. Einstein, amongst others, could never eccept this and Born corresponded with him on the subject (the Born-Einstein letters were published in 1971). Born shared the 1954 Nobel Prize for physics. [Adapted from Anna Jadczyk]
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