This article discusses the history of quantum physics, beginning with an analysis of the process through which a community of quantum theorists and experimentalists came into being. In particular, it traces the roots and fruits of Max Planck’s papers in irreversible processes in nature. It proceeds by exploring the origin and subsequent development of Niels Bohr’s so-called ‘planetary model’ of the atom, focusing on the extension of the model by Arnold Sommerfeld and members of his school as well to Bohr’s use of his principles of correspondence and adiabatic invariance. It also considers the post-war years, as the problems of atomic spectroscopy sparked the development of new methodological approaches to quantum theory. Finally, it offers a history of the two distinct new forms of quantum mechanics put forward in the mid-1920s: Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, and Pascual Jordan’s matrix mechanics, and Erwin Schrödinger’s wave mechanics.
This article is a selection from The Oxford Handbook of the History of Physics, edited by Jed Z. Buchwald and Robert Fox.
Featured Image: 1927 Solvay Conference on Quantum Mechanics. Photograph by Benjamin Couprie, Institut International de Physique Solvay, Brussels, Belgium. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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