Fritz London

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Fritz Wolfgang London
BornMarch 7, 1900
Breslau, Germany
DiedMarch 30, 1954
Durham, North Carolina
ResidenceUSA
CitizenshipGerman, later USA
FieldsTheoretical Physics
InstitutionsUniversity of Berlin
University of Oxford
College de France
Duke University
Known forwork on quantum theory
Notable awardsLorentz Medal, 1953

Fritz Wolfgang London (March 7, 1900March 30, 1954) was a German-born American theoretical physicist. London's early work with Heitler [1] on chemical bonding is now treated in any textbook on physical chemistry. This paper was the first to properly explain the bonding in a homonuclear molecule as H2. It is no coincidence that the Heitler-London work appeared shortly after the introduction of quantum mechanics by Heisenberg and Schrödinger, because quantum mechanics was crucial in their explanation of the covalent bond. Another necessary ingredient was the realization that electrons are indistinguishable, as expressed in the Pauli principle.

Other early work of London was in the area of intermolecular forces. He coined the expression "dispersion effect" for the attraction between two rare gas atoms at large (say about 1 nanometer) distance from each other. Nowadays this attraction is often referred to as "London force". In 1930 he gave (together with R. Eisenschitz)[2] a unified treatment of the interaction between two noble gas atoms that attract each other at large distance, but at short distance are repellent. Eisenschitz and London showed that this repulsion is a consequence of enforcing the electronic wavefunction to be antisymmetric under electron permutations. This antisymmetry is required by the Pauli principle and the fact that electrons are fermions.

For atoms and nonpolar molecules, the London dispersion force is the only intermolecular forces and are responsible for the existence of the liquid and solid states. For polar molecules, this force is one part of the van der Waals force, along with forces between the permanent molecular dipole moments.

London was the first theoretical physicist to make the fundamental, and at the time controversial, suggestion that superfluidity is intrinsically related to the Einstein condensation of bosons, a phenomenon now known as Bose–Einstein condensation (BEC). However, note that Bose, whose contribution was to recognize that the statistics of massless photons could also be applied to massive particles, did not contribute to the theory of the condensation of bosons.

London was also one of the early authors (including Schrödinger) to have properly understood the principle of local gauge invariance (Weyl) in the context of the then new quantum mechanics. London was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland). After Hitler's Nazi Party passed the 1933 racial laws, London lost his position at the University of Berlin. He took visiting positions in England and France, and eventually emigrated to the United States in 1939. In 1945, he became a naturalized citizen. He died in Durham, North Carolina. London was in his later life a professor at Duke University. He was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1953.

Bibliography

  • Gavroglu, Kostas Fritz London: A Scientific Biography (Cambridge, 2005)

References

  1. W. Heitler and F. London, Zeitschrift für Physik, vol. 44, p. 455 (1927). English translation in H. Hettema, Quantum Chemistry, Classic Scientific Papers, World Scientific, Singapore (2000).
  2. R. Eisenschitz and F. London, Zeitschrift für Physik, vol. 60, p. 491 (1930). English translation in H. Hettema, Quantum Chemistry, Classic Scientific Papers, World Scientific, Singapore (2000).

Fritz London: A Scientific Biography , by Kostas Gavroglu, Cambridge University Press (1995). ISBN: 0521432731.

External links

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