Pascual Jordan

Last updated

Pascual Jordan
Pascual Jordan 1920s.jpg
Pascual Jordan in the 1920s
Born18 October 1902
Died31 July 1980(1980-07-31) (aged 77)
Known for Quantum mechanics
Quantum field theory
Matrix mechanics
Skew lattice
Jordan algebra
Jordan–Brans–Dicke theory
Jordan and Einstein frames
Jordan map
Jordan–Wigner transformation
Awards Max Planck Medal (1942), Carl Friedrich Gauß Medal (1955)
Scientific career
Fields Theoretical physics
Institutions Technical University of Hannover
University of Göttingen
Doctoral advisor Max Born
Doctoral students Jürgen Ehlers, Engelbert Schücking

Ernst Pascual Jordan (German: [ˈjɔɐ̯daːn] ; 18 October 1902 – 31 July 1980) was a German theoretical and mathematical physicist who made significant contributions to quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. He contributed much to the mathematical form of matrix mechanics, and developed canonical anticommutation relations for fermions. Jordan algebra is employed for and is still used in studying the mathematical and conceptual foundations of quantum theory, and has found other mathematical applications. [1]


Family history

An ancestor of Pascual Jordan named Pascual Jordan [2] was a Spanish nobleman and cavalry officer who served with the British during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Jordan eventually settled in Hannover, which in those days ruled the United Kingdom. The family name was eventually changed to Jordan (pronounced in the German manner, [ˈjɔʁdaːn] or [ˈjɔɐ̯daːn] ). A family tradition held that the first-born son in each generation be named Pascual. [3] Jordan was raised with a traditional religious upbringing. At age 12 he attempted to reconcile a literal interpretation of the Bible with Darwinian evolution; his teacher of religion convinced him there was no contradiction between science and religion (Jordan would write numerous articles on the relationship between the two throughout his life). [3]

Jordan enrolled in the Technical University of Hannover in 1921 where he studied zoology, mathematics, and physics. As was typical for a German university student of the time, he shifted his studies to another university before obtaining a degree. The University of Göttingen, his destination in 1923, was then at the very zenith of its powers in mathematics and the physical sciences, such as under the guidance of mathematician David Hilbert and the physicist Arnold Sommerfeld. At Göttingen Jordan became an assistant to the mathematician Richard Courant for a time, and then he studied under the physicist Max Born for his doctorate.

Scientific work

Together with Max Born and Werner Heisenberg, Jordan was a coauthor of an important series of papers on quantum mechanics. [4] He went on to pioneer early quantum field theory [4] before largely switching his focus to cosmology before World War II.

Jordan devised a type of nonassociative algebras, now named Jordan algebras in his honor, in an attempt to create an algebra of observables for quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. Today, von Neumann algebras are also employed for this purpose. Jordan algebras have since been applied in projective geometry, number theory, complex analysis, optimization, and many other fields of pure and applied mathematics, and continue to be used in studying the mathematical and conceptual underpinnings of quantum theory.

In 1966, Jordan published his 182-page work Die Expansion der Erde. Folgerungen aus der Diracschen Gravitationshypothese (The expansion of the Earth. Conclusions from the Dirac gravitation hypothesis) [5] in which he developed his theory that, according to Paul Dirac's hypothesis of a steady weakening of gravitation throughout the history of the universe, the Earth may have swollen to its current size, from an initial ball of a diameter of only about 7,000 kilometres (4,300 mi). This theory could explain why the ductile lower sima layer of the Earth's crust is of a comparatively uniform thickness, while the brittle upper sial layer of the Earth's crust had broken apart into the main continental plates. The continents having to adapt to the ever flatter surface of the growing ball, the mountain ranges on the Earth's surface would, in the course of that, have come into being as constricted folds. [6] Despite the energy Jordan invested in the expanding Earth theory, his geological work was never taken seriously by either physicists or geologists. [7]

Political activities

Germany's defeat in the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles had a profound effect on Jordan's political beliefs. While many of his colleagues believed the Treaty to be unjust, Jordan went much further and became increasingly nationalistic and right-wing. He wrote numerous articles in the late 1920s that propounded an aggressive and bellicose stance. He was an anti-communist and was particularly concerned about the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Bolsheviks. [3]

In 1933, Jordan joined the Nazi party, like Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark, and, moreover, joined an SA unit. He supported the Nazis' nationalism and anti-communism but at the same time, he remained "a defender of Einstein" and other Jewish scientists. Jordan seemed to hope that he could influence the new regime; one of his projects was attempting to convince the Nazis that modern physics developed as represented by Einstein and especially the new Copenhagen brand of quantum theory could be the antidote to the "materialism of the Bolsheviks". However, while the Nazis appreciated his support for them, his continued support for Jewish scientists and their theories led him to be regarded as politically unreliable. [8] [9]

Jordan enlisted in the Luftwaffe in 1939 and worked as a weather analyst at the Peenemünde rocket center, for a while. During the war he attempted to interest the Nazi party in various schemes for advanced weapons. His suggestions were ignored because he was considered "politically unreliable", probably because of his past associations with Jews (in particular: Courant, Born, and Wolfgang Pauli) and the so-called "Jewish physics".

Had Jordan not joined the Nazi party, it is conceivable that he could have won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with Max Born. Born would go on to win the 1954 Physics Prize with Walther Bothe. [10] [11]

Wolfgang Pauli declared Jordan to be "rehabilitated" to the West German authorities some time after the war, allowing him to regain academic employment after a two-year period. He then recovered his full status as a tenured professor in 1953. Jordan went against Pauli's advice, and reentered politics after the period of denazification came to an end under the pressures of the Cold War. He secured election to the Bundestag standing with the conservative Christian Democratic Union. In 1957 Jordan supported the arming of the Bundeswehr with tactical nuclear weapons by the Adenauer government, while the Göttingen Eighteen (which included Born and Heisenberg) issued the Göttinger Manifest in protest. This and other issues were to further strain his relationships with his former friends and colleagues. [3]

Selected works

Related Research Articles

Werner Heisenberg German theoretical physicist

Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics. He published his work in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In the subsequent series of papers with Max Born and Pascual Jordan, during the same year, this matrix formulation of quantum mechanics was substantially elaborated. He is known for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which he published in 1927. Heisenberg was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the creation of quantum mechanics".

Erich Hückel German physical chemist and physicist

Erich Armand Arthur Joseph Hückel was a German physicist and physical chemist. He is known for two major contributions:

Max Born German physicist, mathematician and Nobel laureate

Max Born was a German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. He also made contributions to solid-state physics and optics and supervised the work of a number of notable physicists in the 1920s and 1930s. Born won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics for his "fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function".

The year 1927 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

Fritz London American physicist

Fritz Wolfgang London was a German physicist and professor at Duke University. His fundamental contributions to the theories of chemical bonding and of intermolecular forces are today considered classic and are discussed in standard textbooks of physical chemistry. With his brother Heinz London, he made a significant contribution to understanding electromagnetic properties of superconductors with the London equations and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on five separate occasions.

Grete Hermann German mathematician

Grete Hermann was a German mathematician and philosopher noted for her work in mathematics, physics, philosophy and education. She is noted for her early philosophical work on the foundations of quantum mechanics, and is now known most of all for an early, but long-ignored critique of a no hidden-variable theorem by John von Neumann. It has been suggested that, had her critique not remained nearly unknown for decades, the historical development of quantum mechanics might have been very different.

History of quantum field theory Wikimedia history article

In particle physics, the history of quantum field theory starts with its creation by Paul Dirac, when he attempted to quantize the electromagnetic field in the late 1920s. Major advances in the theory were made in the 1940s and 1950s, and led to the introduction of renormalized quantum electrodynamics (QED). QED was so successful and accurately predictive that efforts were made to apply the same basic concepts for the other forces of nature. By the late 1970s, these efforts successfully utilized gauge theory in the strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force, producing the modern standard model of particle physics.

Walter Heitler physicist (1904-1981)

Walter Heinrich Heitler was a German physicist who made contributions to quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory. He brought chemistry under quantum mechanics through his theory of valence bonding.

The Born rule is a key postulate of quantum mechanics which gives the probability that a measurement of a quantum system will yield a given result. In its simplest form, it states that the probability density of finding a particle at a given point is proportional to the square of the magnitude of the particle's wavefunction at that point. It was formulated by German physicist Max Born in 1926.

Walter Thirring was an Austrian physicist after whom the Thirring model in quantum field theory is named. He was the son of the physicist Hans Thirring.

Wilhelm Lenz was a German physicist, most notable for his invention of the Ising model and for his application of the Laplace–Runge–Lenz vector to the old quantum mechanical treatment of hydrogen-like atoms.

Karel Niessen Dutch physicist

Karel Frederik Niessen was a Dutch theoretical physicist who made contributions to quantum mechanics and is known for the Pauli-Niessen model.

Über quantentheoretische Umdeutung kinematischer und mechanischer Beziehungen was a breakthrough article in quantum mechanics written by Werner Heisenberg, which appeared in Zeitschrift für Physik in September 1925.

Stochastic quantum mechanics is an interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Jorge André Swieca was a Brazilian physicist born in Warsaw, Poland in 1936. He was mostly active in quantum field theory (QFT), particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. A series of summer schools is named after him.

Earle Hesse Kennard was a theoretical physicist and professor at Cornell University.

In theoretical physics, stochastic quantization is a method for modelling quantum mechanics, introduced by Edward Nelson in 1966, and streamlined by Parisi and Wu.

<i>The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory</i> book by Werner Heisenberg

The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory(German: Physikalischen Prinzipien der Quantentheorie publisher: S. Hirzel Verlag, 1930) by Nobel laureate (1932) Werner Heisenberg and subsequently translated by Carl Eckart and Frank C. Hoyt. The book was first published in 1930 by University of Chicago Press. Then in 1949, according to its copyright page, Dover Publications reprinted the "unabridged and unaltered" 1930's version.

Imre Fényes Hungarian physicist

Imre Fényes was a Hungarian physicist who was the first to propose a stochastic interpretation of quantum mechanics.


  1. McCrimmon, Kevin (2004). A taste of Jordan algebras (PDF). New York: Springer. ISBN   0-387-95447-3.
  2. Jones, Sheilla (2008). The quantum ten : a story of passion, tragedy, ambition and science . Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780195369090.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Schroer, Bert (2003). "Pascual Jordan, his contributions to quantum mechanics and his legacy in contemporary local quantum physics". arXiv: hep-th/0303241 .
  4. 1 2 Silvan S. Schweber, QED and the Men Who Made It: Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, ISBN   0-691-03327-7.
  5. Die Wissenschaft, vol. 124. Friedrich Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig 1966
  6. Heinz Haber: "Die Expansion der Erde" [The expansion of the Earth]. Unser blauer Planet[Our blue planet]. Rororo Sachbuch [Rororo nonfiction] (in German) (Rororo Taschenbuch Ausgabe [Rororo pocket edition] ed.). Reinbek: Rowohlt Verlag. 1967 [1965]. pp. 48, 52, 54–55.
  7. Kragh, Helge (2015). "Pascual Jordan, Varying Gravity, and the Expanding Earth". Physics in Perspective. 17 (2): 107–134. Bibcode:2015PhP....17..107K. doi:10.1007/s00016-015-0157-9.
  8. Schucking, E. L. (1999). "Jordan, Pauli, Politics, Brecht, and a Variable Gravitational Constant". Physics Today. 52 (10): 26–31. Bibcode:1999PhT....52j..26S. doi:10.1063/1.882858.
  9. Schroer, Bert (27 March 2003). "Pascual Jordan, his contributions to quantum mechanics and his legacy in contemporary local quantum physics". arXiv: hep-th/0303241 .
  10. Bernstein, Jeremy (2005). "Max Born and the quantum theory". Am. J. Phys. 73 (11): 999–1008. Bibcode:2005AmJPh..73..999B. doi:10.1119/1.2060717.
  11. Bert Schroer (2003). "Pascual Jordan, his contributions to quantum mechanics and his legacy in contemporary local quantum physics". arXiv: hep-th/0303241 .

Further reading