10.09.2020

Erwin Schrödinger, Professor at the University of Vienna

By Emer. o. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Herbert Pietschmann, Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna

Caption – Left: Excerpt from the newspaper “Irish Press Reporter” of 1956 announcing Schrödinger’s return to Vienna. Right: A letter from Hans Thirring, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Vienna and close friend of Schrödinger, in which he reports that the Latter has been officially appointed professor in Vienna from the 18th of January 1956. Middle: A signed photograph of Schrödinger taken in 1956 in Alpbach (Austria).

Erwin Schrödinger returned to Austria in the Academic Year 1955/56 and became a full professor at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Vienna. I was a student at this Institute and – of course – I wanted to write my Doctoral thesis under Erwin Schrödinger.

Thus, I attended his course on General Relativity in the academic year 1957/58. For the examinations, Schrödinger invited his students to his home in the Pasteur-Gasse, not far from the Institute for Theoretical Physics. He was a perfect host even on these occasions and after my first exam in the wintertime, he was going to help me into my heavy overcoat. I remember how difficult it was for me, because neither could I let him bring my coat to help me into it nor could I prevent him from doing so.

After my two examinations, I told his assistant that I wanted to write my thesis under Schrödinger’s guidance. So I was invited again to Schrödinger’s home for an interesting talk; Schrödinger told me that he was very sorry not to be able to accept a PhD student for the following reason: he said that at his age, he was only working in two fields. The first was General Relativity but he did not have any good topic to work on in a thesis. And – his eyes began to spark – the other was wave mechanics! (He never used the term quantum mechanics). He said he would have very many interesting topics to work on, but he did not want to take a young physicist on a track which by all physicists in the rest of the world was considered to be a dead-end.

At that time I was disappointed, but soon I realized how grateful I should be to Schrödinger! I met students of other “dissidents” in the development of quantum mechanics who had become outsiders and never produced anything meaningful in physics. So I obtained my thesis from Walter Thirring before he even arrived in Vienna and was one of his first PhD students in his Vienna time.