Occasionally I scan the website onthisday.com, a compilation of major and minor events for each day of the year. Historical happenings, the birth and death of famous and not-so-famous people, wars and battles, sports events and major catastrophes like earthquakes and fires, are cited. Saturday afternoon, two days after Thanksgiving, still digesting my holiday feast, and with nothing better to do on a cloudy day than peruse the website while sipping my iced coffee, I discovered an interesting footnote to history.
On November 29, 1935, the Austrian physicist and 1933 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Erwin Schrödinger, published what the TV comedy series The Big Bang Theory introduced to its millions of non-scientific viewers: an experiment known as Schrödinger’s cat.
Schrödinger published his theory of wave mechanics and quantum physics in 1926. The celebrated Schrödinger’s cat paradox was an attempt to clarify the scientist’s theory of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. The explanation resulted from a discussion between the physicist and Albert Einstein.
Schrödinger worked on a number of major developments in Physics, but unfortunately I do not have enough scientific acumen to discuss his research and discoveries. I can, however, briefly summarize the man’s interesting and rather unconventional private life. He engaged in a ménage a trois with his wife, Annemarie Bertel, and his mistress, Mrs. Hilde Marche, the wife of a colleague. He fathered a daughter with Marche, and also fathered at least two other children with two different women (neither one his wife). Schrödinger worked in Switzerland, then Germany. He left Germany in 1933 because of the rise of the Nazis and increase in anti-semitism (he was not Jewish). He lived and worked in Ireland for years, then eventually retired to Austria. He died in 1961, at the age of 73, of tuberculosis.
In case you missed it…here is a YouTube clip from The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon uses the example of the Schrödinger’s cat paradox to explain to Penny her relationship with Leonard.
For a more in-depth (but also short) scientific explanation of Schrödinger’s cat, but one not too full of obscure scientific language, this YouTube video is understandable and instructive. Colorful too: