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In 1926, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrdinger reasoned that if electrons behave

as waves, then it should be possible to describe them using a wave equation,


like the equation that describes thevibrations of strings, or Maxwell's
equation for electromagnetic waves.
A wave equation typically describes how a wave function evolves in time. A
function describes a relationship between two values. The function f(x) = x+1,
for example, is a function because for every value of x you get a new value
of f(x). A wave function describes the behaviour of something that is waving. In
the case of Maxwell's equations, the wave function describes the behaviour of
the electric and magnetic fields. In the case of a wave on a string, the wave
function describes the displacement of the string.
The wave function of a wave travelling in the x direction, with angular
frequency = 2 - where is the frequency - is

(x,t) = Cei(kx-t) + De-i(kx-t).


Here (x,t) is the wave function, C, D, e, and i are constants, k = 2/,
where is the wavelength, x is the position, and t is time.
Schrdinger saw that if D = 0, then for an object with E = h (the Planck
relation, where Eequals energy and h is Planck's constant), and =
h/p (the de Broglie wavelength, where p is momentum), this equation can be
rewritten as a quantum wave function:

(x,t) = Cei(kx-t),
using k = 2/,
(x,t) = Cei( -t),
using = 2,
2x

(x,t) = Cei2( -t),


using = h/p,
x

(x,t) = Cei2(
using E = h,

h-t),

px

(x,t) = Ce (px-Et),
Finally, using =h/2 gives,
i2

(x,t) = Ce
.
This is the quantum wave function. The Schrdinger equation shows how the
quantum wave function changes over time.
i(px - Et)

Schrdinger showed that position and momentum are related using calculus, a
branch of mathematics developed by British physicist Isaac Newton and French
philosopher Gottfried Leibnizin the late 1600s. One branch of calculus is known
as differentiation, a mathematical method for measuring how a function
changes as its input changes. If you differentiate position with respect to time,

for example, then you are measuring velocity. If you differentiate velocity with
respect to time, then you are measuring acceleration.
This method can be used in scenarios where the equations velocity =
distance/time andacceleration = velocity/time aren't applicable, such as
when the velocity or acceleration is constantly changing.
Schrdinger showed that if you differentiate (x,t) with respect to position, x,
then the result is equal to (x,t) multiplied by the momentum (p), and a
constant (1/-i):

d(x,t)dx
=
p-i
(x,t).
If you differentiate (x,t) with respect to time, t, then the result is equal
to (x,t) multiplied by the energy (E), and a constant (1/i):
d(x,t)dt
=
Ei
(x,t).
For an electron travelling through an electric field, for example, the total energy
is equal to the kinetic energy plus the potential energy of the field.
The kinetic energy (K) equals
12
mV2, where m is mass, and V is velocity.
Using p = mV, K =
12
2
mV =
12
m2V2m
=
p22m
.
The potential energy of the field equals PE (x,t), and so E =
p22m
+ PE (x,t)
Putting this into
d(x,t)dt
=
Ei
(x,t) gives i
d(x,t)dt

=
p22m
(x,t) + PE(x,t)(x,t).
Finally, using
d2(x,t)x2t
=
p2-2t
(x,t) gives
i
d(x,t)dt
=
-22m
d2(x,t)dx2
+ PE(x,t)(x,t),
or

E(x,t) = H(x,t),
where

E = i
ddt
and H =
-22m
d2dx2
+ PE(x,t).
This is the time-dependent Schrdinger equation - or wave equation - for a
single non-relativistic charged particle moving in an electric field. It describes all
the features of the electron that we can measure, and can be extended to
include any other object under almost any other force. The Schrdinger
equation can be used to make the exact same predictions as German
physicistWerner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. It can calculate
where electron waves will be situated within an atom, and predict
where spectral lines will occur.
Schrdinger's equation describes the world in terms of continuously evolving
waves, and Heisenberg's describes it in terms of particles that undergo 'jumps'
from one place to another without moving through the space in-between. Many
physicists preferred Schrdinger's approach because it was easier to visualise
and used more familiar mathematics.
Schrdinger went on to show that his wave equation was equivalent to
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, although they both argued for the superiority
of their own approach. Danish physicistNiels Bohr however, believed that both
views were equally valid.

In classical wave equations, the wave function has a real meaning, it describes
something that is physically waving, but Schrdinger's wave equation had no
physical interpretation. In the 1960s,Richard Feynman stated: "Where did he
get that [equation] from? Nowhere. It is not possible to derive it from anything
you know. It came out of the mind of Schrdinger".
In 1926, Schrdinger believed that electron waves were always spread out
across all of space, and that the square of the wave function gave the density of
the electron wave in any particular location. This was a reasonable assumption
since the wave appeared to be densest in the places where Bohr's theory
predicted that electrons would be. Yet Schrdinger's interpretation could not
explain quantum tunnelling.
German-British physicist Max Born proposed a different interpretation that same
year. Born stated that the square of the wave function does not represent the
physical density of electron waves, but their probability density. This is the
probability of finding an electron in any particular state; that is, with any
particular position, momentum, or energy, at any particular time. The de Broglie
model of the atom was now replaced with the idea that the electron exists in a
superpositional 'probability cloud'.
During the double slit experiment, it is the probability density that is 'waving',
and theinterference pattern is produced by the superposition of possible paths
the electron could take.Anything that can be described by the Schrdinger
equation can be described as being in a superpositional state, where it exists in
all possible quantum states at once. A superposition is composed of all of the
solutions to the Schrdinger equation and - since the Schrdinger equation is
linear - there are often an infinite amount of solutions.
Linear equations are equations with the form a1x1 + a2x2 + ... + anxn = c,
where c and a1...anare constants, and x1...xn vary. A linear equation with one
variable, 3x = 9 for example, has one solution, x = 9/3 = 3. Liner equations
with two or more variables have an infinite amount of solutions. A Liner
equations with two variables, y = 3x+3 for example, has possible solutions
x=1,y=6, x=2,y=9, x=3,y=12 ... etc. and produces a straight line when plotted
on a graph. With three variables, 2x + 3y - z = 9 for example, possible
solutions include x=1, y=2, z=-4, x=2, y=2, z=1, x=2, y=1, z=-2 etc. and the
equation produces a plane when plotted.
If, during the double slit experiment, the position of the electron were
measured, however, then a single result would be given with a probability of
100%. All other measurements would confirm this result, and an interference
pattern would not form. Bohr and Heisenberg interpreted the process of
measurement as invoking a 'collapse' of the wave function, from a
superpositional state into a single state, with a probability determined by Born's
rule. This is known as the Copenhagen interpretation, or collapse approach to
quantum mechanics. The collapse approach suggests that the universe must be
objectively indeterminate because you cannot predict what state a superposition

will collapse into, you can only assign each possibility a probability. This implies
that you cannot know the future of the universe, even if you knew all of the
physical laws and everything about its current state. Schrdinger and GermanAmerican physicist Albert Einstein did not agree.
The search for the physical meaning behind these new equations was discussed
at the 1927Solvay Conference on Physics. This was attended by 29 scientists,
including Erwin Schrdinger,Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner
Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Louis de Broglie, Paul Dirac, Max Born, Marie
Sklodowska-Curie, and Arthur Compton.
In a joint paper delivered to the conference, Heisenberg and Born stated that
they considered "quantum mechanics to be a closed theory, whose fundamental
physical and mathematical assumptions are no longer susceptible of any
modification". Schrdinger and Einstein disagreed, and argued that quantum
mechanics is a statistical approximation of an underlying deterministic theory.
Part of the conference was filmed by American chemist Irving Langmuir, as
shown below.
The 1927 Solvay Conference on Physics. 21 out of 29 attendees are shown, they are, in
order of appearance: Erwin Schrdinger, Niels Bohr, Auguste Piccard, Werner Heisenberg,
Paul Ehrenfest, Peter Debye, Wolfgang Pauli, Leon Brillouin, Hendrik Kramers, Paul
Dirac,Max Born, Louis de Broglie, Irving Langmuir, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, William
Lawrence Bragg, Arthur Compton, Owen Richardson, Hendrik Lorentz, Paul Langevin, Albert
Einstein, and Max Planck. The 8 attendees not filmed were: Emile Henriot, Edouard Herzen,
Theophile de Donder, Jules Emile Verschaffelt, Ralph Howard Fowler, Martin Knudsen,
Charles-Eugene Guye, and Charles Thomson Rees Wilson. Credit: Irving Langmuir
via mikicorni.