Arnold Sommerfeld

Picture of Arnold Sommerfeld

Date of Birth: 05/12/1868

Age: 82

Place of birth: Konigsberg

Citizenship: Germany


Arnold Sommerfeld was born in a family practitioner who was interested in natural science. From 1886 he studied mathematics at the University of Konigsberg, who was one of the first universities, where theoretical physics has established itself as an independent subject. Among his teachers were such outstanding scientists as David Hilbert, Ferdinand von Lindemann and Adolf Hurwitz. In 1891 Sommerfeld defended his thesis on Strange functions in mathematical physics.

In 1893 Sommerfeld, after military service, he moved to Gottingen, at that time - a major mathematical center of Germany. There he worked first as an assistant in the Mineralogical Institute. His main interest remains but mathematics and mathematical physics. In 1894 he became an assistant mathematician Felix Klein. he wrote in 1895. Under the leadership of Mr. Klein`s doctoral thesis mathematical theory of diffraction, after which it becomes privatdotsentom mathematics.

In 1897 Sommerfeld married. Soon he gets the position of professor of mathematics at the Mining Academy of Clausthal. Since 1900 Head of the Department of Technical Mechanics at the Technical Institute in Aachen. In 1906 he became professor of theoretical physics at the University of Munich, where he creates one of the most important centers of theoretical physics. Despite offers to take other famous pulpit, he remained in Munich until the end of his life, except for a break at the time professorship in the United States (University of Wisconsin 1922/1923) and travel as an academic teacher, which led him to Asia (India, China, Japan ) and the USA (1928/1929). Although output in 1935 retired, he continued to teach until 1940. The reason for this was the lack of candidates for substitution - Sommerfeld prefer to see in its place Heisenberg, but came up against the opposition of the representatives of the so-called.. German physicist who in the end were able to promote their own, according to Sommerfeld, the worst of the available, the candidate. After World War Sommerfeld again worried about the follower, who could continue the tradition of his scientific school, and offered to candidates Heisenberg, Bethe and Weizsacker.

Sommerfeld killed in 1951 as a result of a car accident.


Together with Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr and Arnold Sommerfeld belongs to the circle of researchers who are at the beginning of XX-th century created a new foundation of physics in the form of modern theoretical physics with its main directions - quantum mechanics and relativity theory. Sommerfeld was not only an outstanding scientist, but also a talented teacher. His contribution to science was not so much the wording of the new revolutionary physical theories, but in the application of advanced mathematical methods in solving the physical and technical problems. A notable contribution to the early quantum theory was to specify the Bohr model of the atom by means of which could explain the fine structure of the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom. In addition, he developed the theory of X-ray radiation, improved the electron theory of metals in Drude, using quantum-mechanical treatment (theory Zomerfelda-Drude) and created a complete theory of the gyroscope. Sommerfeld was one of the first physicists to adopt and apply the special theory of relativity, Einstein and thus contributed to its recognition.

Many well-known, some of them Nobel laureates, eminent physicists of XX-th century came from the so-called theoretical physics Sommerfeld`s scientific school. They were either assistants or graduate students of Sommerfeld, or else attend his classes. This school has made a strong impact on the development of science (especially quantum theory and its distribution) both because of the quality of scientific work, and due to the fact that many of the department in Germany and the United States were headed by immigrants school Sommerfeld. From the founders of quantum mechanics, two - Heisenberg and Pauli - were Sommerfeld graduate. Among other students were also Debye, Bethe, Rabi and Pauling.

Sommerfeld made an impact on science and through the publication of textbooks. His book Atomic Structure and spectral lines, which appeared for the first time in 1919, reprinted in subsequent years, with extensive additions, reflecting the rapid development of atomic physics at the time. This book has been a long time one of the most significant publications that are made available to young experimenters theoretical achievements of quantum mechanics, and also played a huge role in teaching students.

Sommerfeld was a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences since 1908 and a member of the Royal Society in London since 1926. He was awarded the medal Helmholtz in 1917, the Max Planck Medal in 1931 and the Lorentz Medal in 1939

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