Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961)

Famous for his ‘cat paradox’, Erwin Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist who developed fundamental equations of quantum mechanics. He enjoyed mathematics and physics from an early age, and as a schoolboy also appreciated the strict logic of ancient grammar. He studied theoretical physics at the University of Vienna.
During the First World War, Schrödinger served as an artillery officer, continuing his theoretical work and submitting papers from the front. After a series of academic posts he became Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Zurich in 1921.
In 1926, building on Louis de Broglie’s theory that the electron behaves like a wave, Schrödinger developed a series of equations that used wave mathematics to describe the atom and how atomic states change over time. Schrödinger’s wave mechanics is one of the key ways of describing the quantum world, alongside Werner Heisenberg’s matrix theory. Schrödinger shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics with Paul Dirac for their work on quantum mechanics.
That same year Schrödinger had decided to leave his current post in Berlin, as he disagreed with the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. He spent time at Oxford and Princeton, but did not settle in either institution for very long. Integration into these academic communities may have been hampered by his unconventional personal arrangement of living with two women. In 1936, Schrödinger returned to his native Austria to take up a post in Graz. After Austria was annexed by Germany, Schrödinger publicly recanted his opposition to Nazism in an effort to ensure his own security. He would later bitterly regret this decision, which in any case had little effect: he was dismissed for political unreliability. On the invitation of the Irish premier, Eamon de Valera, he eventually settled at Dublin’s newly created Institute for Advanced Studies. While there he published What Is Life?, which applied theoretical physics to molecular biology. On retirement in 1956 he returned to Vienna.
Schrödinger’s name is most often associated with his famous cat paradox. In a 1935 article he outlined a thought experiment in which a cat is trapped in a chamber with a randomly triggered poison. Until we open the chamber, we cannot be sure whether the cat has been poisoned or not, and therefore it must exist in a superposition of both dead and alive states. Schrödinger outlined this argument to illustrate his opinion that the leading interpretation of quantum mechanics then being developed by Niels Bohr and others was ridiculous. Since then, many different solutions to the problem have been proposed using different interpretations of quantum theory.

Further reading:
Walter J Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

John Gribbin, In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat (London: Black Swan, 1984)