Another Google Doodle for the engineering crowd: Today’s whimsical illustration by German illustrator Kati Szilágyi honors the birthday of German physicist and mathematician Max Born (1882-1970), one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics (QM).
QM, of course, studies matter at the atomic and subatomic level, advancing understanding of matter beyond the theories of classical physics that came before. Applications of quantum theory have led to the laser, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), semiconductors and many more essential components of our modern engineering and electronics world.
The Nobel Prize in Physics for QM’s creation, however, was awarded in 1932 to Werner Heisenberg — the surname on everyone’s lips when a certain show about a meth-cooking chemistry teacher was breaking television records — while Born’s contributions were overlooked for a generation. Heisenberg got credit for inventing one of the earliest formulations of QM, “matrix mechanics,” in which the instantaneous state of a quantum system encodes the probabilities of its observable properties (energy, position, momentum and so on). He later acknowledged having learned about matrices from Born.
The “Born Rule” concerning probability as it relates to quantum system measurement, formulated in 1926, took decades to be appreciated. The basic concept is that mathematical probability, as opposed to cumbersome physical measurement experiments, could be used to predict the location of wave particles in a quantum system. In 1954, Born’s work on fundamental research in QM and the statistical interpretation of the wave function was finally acknowledged with its own Nobel Prize.
Born once said “The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.”