Person: Wigner, Eugene Paul
Eugene Paul Wigner was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist and mathematician who won a Nobel prize for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and elementary particles.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Paul was born in Pest, the eastmost of the two towns which, together with Buda, formed the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
- From the time he was five years old Wigner was given private tuition at home.
- In 1915 Wigner entered the Lutheran High School in Budapest.
- The school provided a solid education for Wigner in mathematics, literature, classics and religion.
- They lived in Austria until the communists were overthrown in November 1919 when they returned to Budapest and Wigner completed has school education.
- In 1920 Wigner left school being one of the top students in his class.
- Despite working for a degree in chemical engineering, Wigner studied mathematics and physics in his own time.
- Wigner obtained the degree of Dr. Ing.
- Wigner's thesis contains the first theory of the rates of association and dissociation of molecules.
- Wigner and Polanyi published a joint paper on this work in 1925.
- The paper ends with Wigner writing that his methods would be prohibitively complicated for atoms with more than three electrons.
- Wigner, because of his interest in crystals, had already read Heinrich Weber's Lehrbuch der Algebra Ⓣ(Textbook of algebra) and, already having an expertise in matrices from Weber's text, he found Schur's papers easy to understand.
- Wigner was invited to Göttingen in 1927 to become Hilbert's assistant.
- This was an important time for Wigner who produced papers of great depth and significance, introducing in his paper On the conservation laws of quantum mechanics (1927) the new concept of parity.
- Wigner returned to Berlin after the year in Göttingen where he lectured on quantum mechanics, worked on writing his famous text Group theory and its application to the quantum mechanics of atomic spectra and continued his research.
- Wigner's book on the applications of group theory to quantum mechanics was not the first to appear, since Weyl published his a little before Wigner.
- From 1930 to 1933 Wigner spent part of the year at Princeton, part at Berlin.
- His Berlin post vanished under the Nazi rules passed in 1933 and from then, except for the years 1936 - 1938 in Wisconsin, Wigner spent the rest of his career at Princeton.
- There is slight confusion about the reason that Wigner left Princeton in 1936.
- While in Wisconsin, Wigner became a U.S. citizen.
- While in Wisconsin Wigner showed the role of the special unitary group SU(4) in considering nuclear forces and he constructed a class of irreducible unitary representations of the Lorentz group.
- They were never happy in the United States and for that matter Wigner never really felt at home.
- Wigner received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1963.
- A very important step in the investigation of these forces was taken by Wigner in 1933 when he found, deducing from some experiments, that the force between two nucleons is very weak except when their distance apart is very small but that the force is then a million times stronger than the electric forces between the electrons in the outer part of the atoms.
- Wigner discovered later other important properties of the nuclear forces.
- fundamentally important that Wigner could show that most essential properties of the nuclei follow from generally valid symmetries of the laws of motion.
- Earlier Wigner had performed pioneering work by studying such symmetries in the laws of motion for the electrons and had made important discoveries by investigating e.g. those symmetries which express the fact that the laws mentioned make no difference between left and right and that backward in time according to them is equivalent to forward in time.
- These investigations were extended by Wigner to the atomic nuclei at the end of the 1930s and he explored then also the newly discovered symmetry property of the force between two nucleons to be the same whether either of the nucleons is a proton or a neutron.
- This work by Wigner and his other investigations of the symmetry principles in physics are important far beyond nuclear physics proper.
- Wigner has made many other important contributions to nuclear physics.
- R L Ingraham summarised some of the many contributions made by Wigner.
- Wigner received many honours for his outstanding work.
Born 17 November 1902, Budapest, Hungary. Died 1 January 1995, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Group Theory, Origin Hungary, Prize Nobel
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive