1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Pascual Jordan - The Forgotten QFT Physicist?

  1. Feb 16, 2014 #1

    Larry Gopnik

    User Avatar
    Gold Member


    I know, I know - everywhere it says "NO HOMEWORK", but I am not entirely sure if writing a Historical Paper on Quantum Field Theory is classified as homework so will attempt to post it here - if it is classed, then I'm very sorry (please move this thread to the correct place).

    So yes, as just mentioned, I am currently halfway through writing a paper on the Historical side Quantum Field Theory for my EPQ (It's.. a British thesis of sorts). When conducting my research I kept coming across one name I'd never heard of while researching the Foundations of the subject (1920's era). This was Pascual Jordan. Naturally I did some research on him and found that he was one of the fathers of the theory and his name was all over QFT papers until about 1933, but however joined the Nazi party and so was ignored for the rest of his life.

    So my question is, fellow Physicists, what is your opinion? Have you heard of Jordan - Even just in passing? He co-authored papers with Heisenberg and Born yet he is never mentioned in all the most niche journals and papers.

    I would love other people's opinion on his "non-mentioned-ness" as I believe I do need to get a general feeling from the Physicists of today.

    Do you think he should be given some recognition or not? Maybe he has received a lot of recognition and I have merely been looking in all the wrong places! If you know of such papers - please by all means kindly post them here. I have found arXiv:hep-th/0303241 which was rather useful.

    This started as just some necessary work, but it has sparked a genuine interest for me! Please, genuine answers. I asked someone I knew took Physics at Uni and they were going "oh yeh.. yeh.. I've heard of him. Great man".Well obviously he hadn't heard of him. Grr.

    As a Jew, I obviously know the atrocities of the Nazi party so am in no way condoning his actions joining the party.

    Thank you for your co-operation.

    Holly Middleton-Spencer.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2014 #2

    I think he tends to be mentioned whenever authors give an overview of the history. As an example, the only two QM textbooks I have available right now, Sakurai's (standard) book and Weinberg's "Lectures on quantum mechanics", do mention him and his role when it came to matrix mechanics (what you call the 20s era). Weinberg also mentions his work during this era a lot in the introductory history chapter in the first volume of his QFT series. I don't know enough about the rest of Jordan's work to tell whether he became unduly ignored due the whole Deutsche Phyzik thing or not (things like Jordan algebras may actually not be that important...), but there certainly is some credit given for what he did before the war.
  4. Feb 17, 2014 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    2016 Award

    For me there's no doubt that Jordan's scientific work in the 1920ies and 30ies is of the same caliber as the one of the other founding fathers of quantum mechanics. Not only has he contributed significantly to make Heisenberg's idea of his famous Helgoland paper (1925) to an understandable mathematical well-formulated scheme in the famous papers by Born and Jordan and by Born, Jordan, and Heisenberg, leading to a formulation of what we call "matrix mechanics". He also has found the formulation by Dirac, independently.

    Another somewhat tragic story is that Jordan found the Fermi-Dirac statistics even somewhat before Fermi and Dirac. He gave the manuscript to Born, who went on a travel to the US, and forgot the manuscript in his suitcase so that it got not publish in time.

    Already in 1927 (!) he contributed significantly to the early development of quantum field theory (together with Pauli, Wigner, and Klein). Some of his more mathematical ideas were recognized only later in 1960ies and 70ies when axiomatic QFT was developed:

    B. Schroer, Pascual Jordan’s legacy and the ongoing research in quantum field theory, Eur. Phys. J. H 35, 377–434 (2010)

    On the German Wikipedia page you find links to the original works (also one in English translation). There's also a "Festschrift" on the occasion of Jordan's 100th birthday with many English contributions about his biography and scientific achievements.

    Of course, his political ideas during the Nazi time must be seen very critical although he was for sure not anti-semitic as Stark and Lenard, and Pauli rehabilitated him after the war so that he could become a physics professor again (in Hamburg). Later he was again politically active as a member of the German Bundestag and worked politically against other physicists like Born and Heisenberg (taking part of the "Göttinger 18" declaration against atomic armament in Germany) in voting for atmomic armament of the German army which lead to his further isolation in the scientific community.
  5. Feb 17, 2014 #4


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    The first chapter of this book might be helpful. It has some interesting anecdotes about Jordan.
  6. Feb 17, 2014 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I'm probably fairly typical of physicists today who have not studied history in depth, but just pick up a little from sources such as Weinberg's books (QFT and QM). A long time ago I read Pais' book.

    I'd certainly heard of Jordan: the Jordan-Wigner transform and Jordan algebras come to mind. (I know what the former is but not the latter.) I knew that Jordan wrote some key early papers on the quantized EM field. On the other hand, I would not have been able to call to mind his first name, whereas I know the first names of most of the famous early physicists.

    I have no idea whether he's being fairly treated by history or not.
  7. Feb 18, 2014 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    2016 Award

    Another great book on the history of QED is

    S. S. Schweber, QED and the Men who made it

    There you mostly find the development concerning Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga, but there's also a chapter on the first stage of QFT (i.e., mostly QED and Fermi's theory of beta decay) (about 1927-1935 or so), where Jordan played an important role.

    The second stage then was after the war: Schwinger, Feynman, Tomonaga; Shelter Island conference, the Lamb shift both experimentally and theoretically; "naive renormalization theory" and "naive (still incomplete) proof of renormalizability of QED.

    The 3rd stage then was in the 1960ies-1970ies, where renormalization theory was completed: Boguliubov and Parasiuk (space-time formalism), Hepp (momentum formalism), Zimmermann (closed solution of the general renormalization scheme in terms of the "forest formula"); Gell-Mann and Low, Stueckelberg and Petermann: Renormalization group; Wilson: physical explanation of the renormalization group in terms of low-energy effective theories; Veltmann and 't Hooft: dimensional regularization, renormalizability of non-abelian gauge theories in both the Wigner-Weyl and the Higgs-Kibble-Brout-Englert-Guralnik-Andersen-et-al realization; Politzer, Gross and Wilczek: asymptotic freedom of QCD; Glashow, Salam, Weinberg theory of the electro-weak interaction.
  8. Feb 18, 2014 #7

    Larry Gopnik

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Thank you so much for all your replies.

    It's very useful to hear that you have all in fact heard of him, as many people (who are Physicists) had not. It's good to hear of both sides. And thank you for the links - a few of them, I had not seen before so I can now add more and more to my paper.

    Upon taking this task of writing a detailed account for the History of QFT, I was egged on by what Weinberg had said in the 1970s -he was shocked that no one had made a conclusive detailed paper on the topic. I can now see why no one has. It all looked so simple in the beginning!
  9. Feb 18, 2014 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted

Similar Discussions: Pascual Jordan - The Forgotten QFT Physicist?
  1. Guass jordan reduction (Replies: 2)

  2. Guass jordan problem (Replies: 5)