Heisenberg and Pauli: Their Program of a Unified Quantum Field Theory of Elementary Particles (1927–1958)

  • Helmut Rechenberg
Part of the Gesammelte Werke / Collected Works book series (HEISENBERG, volume A / 3)


Heisenberg got to know Wolfgang Pauli soon after starting his studies at the University of Munich in fall 1920. He recalled [1]:

When I walked into the hall where Sommerfeld usually gave his lectures, I spotted a dark-haired student with a somewhat secretive face in the third row. Sommerfeld had introduced us during my first visit and had then told me that he considered this boy to be one of his most talented students, one from whom I could learn a great deal. His name was Wolfgang Pauli, and for the rest of his life he was to be a good friend, though often a very severe critic.

During years of studies under Arnold Sommerfeld, Max Born and Niels Bohr, Heisenberg and Pauli discussed problems of atomic theory, including especially the anomalous Zeeman effects and the helium energy states. After Pauli left Munich in fall 1921 for Göttingen, Copenhagen and then Hamburg, the friends began an intensive correspondence that continued, nearly without interruption, until Pauli’s death in 1958. Many of their letters have been preserved; they allow the reconstruction in some detail of their scientific collaboration over 37 years. It is one of the most active and fruitful collaborations in the whole history of science, whose early part contributed essentially to the first formulation of a consistent quantum mechanics in summer 1925 and, less than two years later, to its physical interpretation.


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  • Helmut Rechenberg

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