Person: Uhlenbeck, George Eugene
George Uhlenbeck was an Indonesian born American theoretical physicist who worked in quantum mechanics and introduced the idea of electron spin.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- There George attended elementary school followed by high school, or the higher burger school as it was then called.
- Although Uhlenbeck performed extremely well in his final school examinations in July 1918, he was not allowed to enter a university since his studies had not included Greek and Latin.
- Uhlenbeck was doubly glad to be able to make the move, firstly because he had always wanted to study physics and mathematics at university, but also because he felt he did not have the dexterity to undertake a practical subject.
- Uhlenbeck bought a copy of Boltzmann's Lectures on gas dynamics and he studied this in his own time, continuing the way of learning which he had adopted at school.
- Uhlenbeck's parents did not find it easy to provide the necessary financial support for him at university.
- In his second year as an undergraduate Uhlenbeck studied Maxwell's theory which he wrote out in great detail.
- As he had done at school, Uhlenbeck worked exceptionally hard and performed well in his final examinations in December 1920.
- Uhlenbeck attended these lectures and took additional instruction in mathematics.
- Shortly after the award of the degree Uhlenbeck returned to Italy and, on Ehrenfest's advice, made contact with Enrico Fermi.
- However despite this contact with scientists, Uhlenbeck's academic interests turned towards history.
- Ehrenfest, keen to keep him a scientist, suggested that he work for him for a while and gave Uhlenbeck a two year appointment as his assistant.
- Very soon after taking up the appointment, working with a graduate student Samuel Goudsmit, Uhlenbeck made his most important scientific discovery when he discovered electron spin.
- This was one of the clues which led Uhlenbeck to arrive at the idea of electron spin.
- Uhlenbeck's work progressed well and particularly important was Oskar Klein's appointment to Leiden.
- Uhlenbeck's doctoral work was written in Copenhagen where he spent two months devoted to intensive writing of his dissertation.
- Immediately after being examined on his thesis, Uhlenbeck was appointed to Michigan.
- From 1943 until 1945 Uhlenbeck worked at MIT as a member of the team working on the development of radar.
- As well as fundamental work on quantum mechanics, Uhlenbeck worked on atomic structure and the kinetic theory of matter.
- Uhlenbeck had a very significant influence on statistical mechanics and brought an area which was very varied and disjointed into some sort of structured whole.
- Uhlenbeck received many honours for his work.
Born 6 December 1900, Batavia, Java (now Jakarta, Indonesia). Died 31 October 1988, Boulder, Colorado, USA.
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive