Physics: 1932

Monday, November 16, 2009

Heisenberg, Werner, pronounced HY zuhn burg, VEHR nuhr (1901-1976), a German physicist, is best known for his contributions to atomic theory. Heisenberg developed the uncertainty principle, which states that both the position and the momentum of a subatomic particle cannot be accurately determined simultaneously. Heisenberg discovered the uncertainty principle in 1927. He won the 1932 Nobel Prize in physics for founding one version of the field of physics called quantum mechanics.

Heisenberg based his theories about atomic structure on the frequencies of light given off by atoms. In 1913, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr had suggested that electrons in an atom could travel only in a certain set of orbits around the nucleus. Bohr had also shown that atoms radiate light due to changes in the arrangement of their electrons. During the early 1920's, Heisenberg used studies of atomic spectra to develop matrix mechanics, a form of quantum mechanics that provides a mathematical description of electron orbits.

Heisenberg was born on Dec. 5, 1901, in Wurzburg, Germany. He studied at the University of Munich. He died on Feb. 1, 1976.

Contributor: Richard L. Hilt, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, Colorado College.


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