Eugene Wigner: Wikis


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The native form of this personal name is Wigner JenŇĎ. This article uses the Western name order.
Eugene P. Wigner

Eugene Paul Wigner (1902-1995)
Born November 17, 1902(1902-11-17)
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died January 1, 1995 (aged 92)
Princeton, New Jersey,
United States
Residence USA
Citizenship American (post-1937)
Hungarian (pre-1937)
Ethnicity Hungarian Jewish
Fields Physicist
Institutions University of Göttingen
University of Wisconsin‚ÄďMadison
Princeton University
Manhattan project
Alma mater Technische Hochschule Berlin
Doctoral advisor Michael Polanyi
Other academic advisors L√°szl√≥ R√°tz
Richard Becker
Doctoral students John Bardeen
Victor Frederick Weisskopf
Marcos Moshinsky
Abner Shimony
Edwin Thompson Jaynes
Frederick Seitz
Conyers Herring
Jack H. Irving
Frederick Tappert
Known for Law of conservation of parity
Wigner D-matrix
Wigner-Eckart theorem
Wigner's friend
Wigner semicircle distribution
Wigner's classification
Wigner quasi-probability distribution
Wigner crystal
Wigner effect
Wigner-Seitz cell
Relativistic Breit‚ÄďWigner distribution
Modified Wigner distribution function
Wigner-d'Espagnat inequality
Gabor-Wigner transform
Wigner's theorem
Wigner distribution
Jordan-Wigner transformation
Newton-Wigner localization
Wigner-Seitz radius
6-j symbol
9-j symbol
Influenced Eugene Feenberg
George Cowan
Robert Serber
Igal Talmi
Notable awards Enrico Fermi Award (1958)
Max Planck Medal (1961)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1963)
National Medal of Science (1969)
He was Paul Dirac's brother-in-law and the uncle of Gabriel Andrew Dirac.

Eugene Paul "E. P." Wigner (Hungarian Wigner JenŇĎ P√°l; November 17, 1902 ‚Äď January 1, 1995) was a Hungarian American physicist and mathematician.

He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 "for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles". Some contemporaries referred to Wigner as the Silent Genius and some even considered him the intellectual equal to Albert Einstein, though without his prominence. Wigner is important for having laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics as well as for his research into the structure of the atomic nucleus, and for his several mathematical theorems.


Early life

Wigner was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, into a middle class Jewish family. At the age of 11, Wigner contracted what his parents believed to be tuberculosis. They sent him to live for six weeks in a sanitarium in the Austrian mountains. During this period, Wigner developed an interest in mathematical problems. From 1915 through 1919, together with John von Neumann, Wigner studied at the Fasori Evangélikus Gimnázium, where they both benefited from the instruction the noted mathematics teacher Laszlo Ratz. In 1919, to escape the Bela Kun communist regime, the Wigner family briefly moved to Austria, returning to Hungary after Kun's downfall. Partly as a reaction to the prominence of Jews in the Kun regime, the family converted to Lutheranism.[1]

In 1921, Wigner studied chemical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin (today the Technische Universität Berlin). He also attended the Wednesday afternoon colloquia of the German Physical Society. These colloquia featured such luminaries as Max Planck, Max von Laue, Rudolf Ladenburg, Werner Heisenberg, Walther Nernst, Wolfgang Pauli, and Albert Einstein. Wigner also met the physicist Leo Szilard, who at once became Wigner's closest friend. A third experience in Berlin was formative. Wigner worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Elektrochemistry (now the Fritz Haber Institute), and there he met Michael Polanyi, who became, after László Rátz, Wigner's greatest teacher.

Middle years

In the late 1920s, Wigner deeply explored the field of quantum mechanics. A period at Göttingen as an assistant to the great mathematician David Hilbert proved a disappointment, as Hilbert was no longer active in his works. Wigner nonetheless studied independently. He laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics and in 1927 introduced what is now known as the Wigner D-matrix.[2] It is safe to state that he and Hermann Weyl carry the whole responsibility for the introduction of group theory into quantum mechanics (they spread the "Gruppenpest"). See Wigner's 1931 monograph for a survey of his work on group theory. In the late 1930s, he extended his research into atomic nuclei. He developed an important general theory of nuclear reactions (see for instance the Wigner-Eckart theorem). By 1929, his papers were drawing notice in the world of physics. In 1930, Princeton University recruited Wigner, which was very timely, since the Nazis soon rose to power in Germany. At Princeton in 1934, Wigner introduced his sister Manci to the physicist Paul Dirac, whom she married.

In 1936, Princeton University did not rehire Wigner, hence he searched for new employment. He found this at the University of Wisconsin. There he met his first wife, Amelia Frank, who was a physics student there. However she died unexpectedly in 1937, naturally leaving Wigner distraught.

On January 8, 1937, Wigner became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Princeton University soon invited Wigner back into its employment, and he rejoined its faculty in Fall 1938. Although he was a professed political amateur, in 1939 and 1940 he played a major role in prompting the U.S. Government to establish the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb by 1945. (However, by his personal beliefs, Wigner was at heart a pacifist). Wigner was present in a converted squash courts at the University of Chicago's abandoned Stagg Field on December 2, 1942, when the worlds first atomic reactor, Chicago Pile One (CP-1) achieved a nuclear chain reaction (a critical reaction). [3] He later contributed to civil defense in the U.S. In 1946, Wigner accepted a position as the Director of Research and Development at the Clinton Laboratory (now the Oak Ridge National Laboratory) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. When his duties there did not work out especially well, Wigner returned to Princeton University.

In 1941, Wigner married his second wife, Mary Annette Wheeler, a professior of physics at Vassar College, who had completed her Ph.D. at Yale University in 1932. They remained married until her death in 1977, and they were the parents of two children.

Last years

Patricia Eileen (left) and Eugene Paul Wigner at their home in Princeton.

In 1960, Wigner published a now classic article on the philosophy of mathematics and of physics, which has become his best-known work outside of technical mathematics and physics, " The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences." He argued that biology and cognition could be the origin of physical concepts, as we humans perceive them, and that the happy coincidence that mathematics and physics were so well matched, seemed to be "unreasonable" and hard to explain. His reasoning was resisted by the Harvard mathematician Andrew M. Gleason.

In 1963, Wigner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Wigner professed to never have considered the possibility that this might occur, and he added: "I never expected to get my name in the newspapers without doing something wicked." Wigner later won the Enrico Fermi award, and the National Medal of Science. In 1992, at the age of 90, Wigner published a memoir, The Recollections of Eugene P. Wigner with Andrew Szanton. Wigner died three years later in Princeton, New Jersey. One of his significant students was Abner Shimony. Wigner's third wife was Patricia Hamilton Wigner, the widow of another physicist, Donald Ross Hamilton, who had died in 1971. (He had been the Dean of the Graduate School at Princeton University.)

Feza Gursey (right) with Eugene Wigner, photo by Y. S. Kim [1] (1988) (permission of Prof. Kim to release it to public domain).

Near the end of his life, Wigner's thoughts turned more philosophical. In his memoirs, Wigner said: "The full meaning of life, the collective meaning of all human desires, is fundamentally a mystery beyond our grasp. As a young man, I chafed at this state of affairs. But by now I have made peace with it. I even feel a certain honor to be associated with such a mystery." He became interested in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, particularly its ideas of the universe as an all pervading consciousness. [2] In his collection of essays Symmetries and Reflections - Scientific Essays, he commented "It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness."

Wigner also conceived the Wigner's friend thought experiment in physics, which is an extension of the Schrodinger's cat thought experiment. The Wigner's friend experiment asks the question: "At what stage does a 'measurement' take place?" Wigner designed the experiment to highlight how he believed that consciousness is necessary to the quantum-mechanical measurement processes.

Wigner was a committee chairman at the Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon's annual International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) for several years. At the 11th ICUS conference in Philadelphia, he was given the Founder's Award "for his outstanding contributions to science."[4]



See also


  1. ^ Wigner, E.P., as told to Andrew Szanton The Recollections of Eugene P. Wigner (Plenum, 1992) ISBN 0-306-44326-0
  2. ^ Wigner, E., 1927, Zeitschrift f. Physik 43: 624-52.
  3. ^
  4. ^ The Work of the Church: In Service to God and to Humanity - To Bigotry, No Sanction - Mose Durst

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to E. P. Wigner article)

From Wikiquote

Eugene Paul Wigner (November 17, 1902 ‚Äď January 1, 1995) was a Hungarian physicist and mathematician.


  • A possible explanation of the physicist's use of mathematics to formulate his laws of nature is that he is a somewhat irresponsible person. As a result, when he finds a connection between two quantities which resembles a connection well-known from mathematics, he will jump at the conclusion that the connection is that discussed in mathematics simply because he does not know of any other similar connection.
    • "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, February 1960.
  • The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.
    • "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, February 1960, final sentence.
  • In science, it is not speed that is the most important. It is the dedication, the commitment, the interest and the will to know something and to understand it ‚ÄĒ these are the things that come first.
    • in an interview by Istv√°n Kardos (1978). Scientists face to face. Corvina Kiad√≥. p. 370. ISBN 963130373X.  

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