Linus Pauling and The Nature of the Chemical Bond: A Documentary History Narrative  
Home | Search | All Documents and Media | Linus Pauling Day-By-Day
Quantum Mechanics
<  7  >

Heisenberg’s purely mathematical approach to the structure of the atom — based on a difficult set of matrix calculations — yielded results that matched the bewildering array of new observations physicists were making about the properties of simple atoms. But for a chemist like Pauling, trained to view atoms and molecules as real things with particular sizes and shapes, pure mathematics was unsatisfactory.

He preferred Schrödinger’s theory. The old picture of electrons circling the atomic nucleus like little planets did not fit the new data physicists were gathering. But unlike Heisenberg’s purely mathematical approach, Schrödinger proposed a new theory that replaced orbiting electrons with an image more like standing waves around the nucleus — waves like those found in a plucked guitar string or the head of a beaten drum. By applying an existing mathematics of wave functions to atomic questions, Schrödinger was able to create equations that matched the properties of simple atoms.

It became clear during the months of Pauling’s stay in Europe that Schrödinger’s and Heisenberg’s ideas were not two different realities but two different mathematical methods for arriving at the same atomic reality. Ultimately they became joined under a new name: quantum mechanics. Researchers, it seemed, could pick whichever method was easiest to use for a particular problem.

Pauling preferred the wave approach not only because the mathematics was somewhat easier for him but also, he said, because it contained "at least a trace of physical picture behind the mathematics."

Previous Page Next Page

Audio Clip  Audio: Bright Enough. 1997. (0:27) Transcript and More Information

Get the Flash Player to see this audio player.

Video Clip  Video: Lecture 1, Part 7. 1957. (6:18) Transcript and More Information

Get the Flash Player to see this video.


See Also: Letter from Linus Pauling to A.A. Noyes. December 17, 1926. 
See Also: "Quantum Mechanics Averages." 1926 - 1927. 

Click images to enlarge 

Picture
Portrait of Erwin Schrödinger, 1927.


Page 1
Notes on 'Die Wasserstoffähnlichen Spelstren von Standpunkt der Polarisierbarkeit des Atomorenipfes', Schrödinger, Anm. d. Physik. 77, 43 (1925). 1926 - 1927.

"I think that it is very interesting that one can see the [psi] functions of Schrödinger’s wave mechanics by means of the X-ray study of crystals. This work should be continued experimentally. I believe that much information regarding the nature of the chemical bond will result from it."

Home | Search | All Documents and Media | Linus Pauling Day-By-Day