1933 Nobel Prize in Physics

Time-Dependent Schrodinger Equation (General). Wikimedia Commons

The 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded jointly to Erwin Schrodinger and Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory."

The Science: Atomic Theory

The 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics was not awarded, because the Nobel Committee did not think that any of the candidates at the time warranted the award under the terms of Alfred Nobel's will. Therefore, in 1933, they awarded two Nobel Prizes in Physics.

The first, the 1932 Nobel, went to Werner Heisenberg, while the 1933 Nobel Prize was awarded jointly to Erwin Schrodinger and Paul Dirac.

Though spread out across two separate awards, all three men were being recognized for similar work. In the words of the Nobel Prize press release:

This year's Nobel Prizes for Physics are dedicated to the new atomic physics. The prizes, which the Academy of Sciences has at its disposal, have namely been awarded to these men, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Dirac, who have created and developed the basic ideas of modern atomic physics.

In short, Heisenberg first presented the mathematical matrix formalism of quantum mechanics, pulling together ideas presented earlier by men such as Niels Bohr, Louis deBroglie, Albert Einstein, and Max Planck. Schrodinger, however, is credited with developing the full quantum wavefunction, which has since become known as the Schrodinger equation.

Dirac went on to modify the equations, ultimately into a form that seemed to have a major problem, in that they predicted the existence of particles that didn't exist ... until, that is, antimatter positrons were indeed discovered, thus proving Dirac's approach to be successful.

The work of these three men therefore provide the mathematical basis for creating the quantum mechanical equations that can be applied to experiments within the quantum realm of science, such as that needed to develop atomic theory and interpret experiments related to it.