Consolidation, Extension, and Reception of Quantum Physics

History and Foundations of Quantum Physics: Consolidation, Extension, and Reception

Christoph Lehner, Christian Joas, Edward Jurkowitz, Jürgen Renn, Matthias Schemmel, Maja Fjaestad, , Martin Jähnert

Other involved Scholars: 

Xiaodong Yin
Volker Blum
Kostas Gavroglu
Ana Simões
Donald Salisbury
Kurt Sundermeyer
Fabio Freitas
Olival Freire
Christian Forstner, Olival Freire, Dieter Hoffmann, Anja Skaar Jacobsen


Erwin Schrödinger’s personal copy of Niels Bohr’s Atomtheorie und Naturbeschreibung on which he drew a wave-particle chimera

This group of studies deals with the consolidation, extension, and reception of quantum mechanics from the 1930s onwards, as well as with the debates about its interpretation. A study investigates how quantum physics developed in China during the 20th century, paying special attention to the relationship between scientists and institutions in China, and their international connections (Xiaodong Yin).

The conceptual and the institutional history of solid-state physics in connection with other emerging fields is the subject of another study (Christian Joas). A special focus is the transfer of quantum-field theoretic concepts and methods between theoretical high-energy physics and theoretical solid-state physics in the postwar era.

A study on the history of computation in solid-state physics examines how solid-state theorists’ research practices have evolved from the late 1920s to the present (Edward Jurkowitz, Volker Blum). It is particularly interested in the role that changing computational capacities may have played in the different focuses and standards that leading theorists brought to their research on solid-state topics in diverse institutional settings.

A monograph on the history of quantum chemistry was produced in collaboration and with the support of the quantum history project (Kostas Gavroglu, Ana Simões).

The problematic relationship between the two major fundamental theories of physics in the 20th century is the topic of a collaboration on the history of quantum field theory and quantum gravity (Jürgen Renn, Donald Salisbury, Matthias Schemmel, Kurt Sundermeyer). The current focus of this research endeavor is the historical study of efforts to incorporate gauge and coordinate freedom into quantum theory.

One study concentrates on living physicists and, based on numerous interviews, is focused on the emergence of the theory of decoherence (Fabio Freitas). It places special emphasis on the local environments and how the work on decoherence and the foundations of physics affected the careers of the physicists involved.

Another study on contemporary physics studies visions of nuclear breeder reactors, and inquires how these utopian images of future reactors interplayed with important decisions in the Swedish nuclear program (Maja Fjaestad).

A further study analyzes historically important positions and debates concerning the interpretation of quantum mechanics. As mentioned above, it attempts to understand these debates as negotiations about which elements of the classical theory should be preserved in the new mechanics and which elements need to be jettisoned. Individual topics that have been treated so far are the debates about Anschaulichkeit between Heisenberg and Schrödinger (Martin Jähnert), Einstein’s critique of quantum mechanics (Christoph Lehner), and the debates about “heterodox” interpretations of quantum mechanics after World War II (Fabio Freitas, Olival Freire). Another study deals with the tension between dialectical materialism and the interpretation of quantum mechanics (Christian Forstner, Olival Freire, Dieter Hoffmann, Anja Skaar Jacobsen, Martin Jähnert, Christian Joas, Christoph Lehner).

  • Fjaestad, Maja. Visionen om outtömlig energi : bridreaktorn i svensk kärnkraftshistoria 1945-80. Riga: Gidlunds Förlag, 2010. (Stockholm papers in the history of philosophy and technology)
  • Forstner, Christian. Quantenmechanik im Kalten Krieg : David Bohm und Richard Feynman. Diepholz [u.a.]: Verl. für Geschichte der Naturwiss. und der Technik, 2007.
  • Freire, Olival; Lehner, Christoph. "'Dialectical materialism and modern physics,' an unpublished text by Max Born." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 64 (2010), 155-162.
  • Gavroglu, Kostas; Simões, Ana. Neither physics nor chemistry : a history of quantum chemistry. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010.
  • Jacobsen, Anja Skaar. "Léon Rosenfeld’s Marxist defense of complementarity." Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 37 (2007) Suppl., 3–34.
  • Monaldi, Daniela. "The indirect observation of the decay of mesotrons: Italian experiments on cosmic radiation, 1937-1943." Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38 (2008): 353-404.
  • Osnaghi, Stefano; Freitas, Fábio; Freire Jr., Olival. "The origin of the Everettian heresy." Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (2009).
  • Salisbury, Donald C.. "Léon Rosenfeld and the challenge of the vanishing momentum in quantum electrodynamics." Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (2009).
  • Wüthrich, Adrian: The Genesis of Feynman Diagrams. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer, 2010.