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Posted at 07:55 AM ET, 08/12/2013

ERWIN SCHRODINGER: Google’s ‘Cat’ Doodle honors physicist and his legacy’s many lives

AS A MASTER of the thought experiment, he had the ability to think both outside the box and inside the paradox.

Erwin Schrödinger, the famed Austrian physicist, shared the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his eponymous equation on quantum wave mechanics. But because no scientist this side of Pavlov is so closely and popularly associated with a domestic pet, Google celebrates the anniversary of Schrodinger’s birth today with a feline Doodle.

It’s a fitting nod to this endlessly debated intellectual catnip.

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Few thought experiments have weaved their way into mainstream culture with quite the feral fascination as “Schrödinger’s cat,” which challenged the conventional “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics by posing the paradox: Can a cat placed in a steel box (alongside poison and a radioactive source) then be observed to be simultaneously alive and dead — and does the act of observation collapse this “superposition” into one of two states?

Everyone from science-fiction authors to screenwriters, musicians to webcomic creators have toyed — like a feline to a ball of theoretical yarn — with this elegant paradox that won even Einstein’s praise. While discussing his new best-selling novel (”The Ocean at the End of the Lane”) with Comic Riffs this summer, for instance, Neil Gaiman noted that the book’s kitten can seem to exist within two realms simultaneously; the writer cited the weird and beautiful wonder of Schrödinger’s cat. (Also, in Gaiman’s “American Gods,” one character memorably says: “If they don’t ever open the box to feed it, it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead.”)

And one of our favorite comic lines comes courtesy of the space strip “Brewster Rockit,” in which “This Rockit Science Moment is brought to you by the makers of Shrödinger’s cat-litter box. If you don’t observe it, then you don’t have to change it.”

Schrödinger was born on this day in 1887 in Vienna, and had scientific scholarship in his lineage, and appreciation for art and botany within his childhood environment. He earned his doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1910 and served in the military during World War I before spending much of the ‘20s at the University of Zurich, where he had a deeply fertile period and — uncommon for a theoretical physicist in his late 30s — produced profoundly creative new work, writing papers in 1926 that set forth the foundations of quantum wave mechanics.

In 1927, Schrödinger joined the faculty at the prestigious University of Berlin (Einstein also taught there at this time), but beginning in 1933 would relocate numerous times because of the rise of Hitler. By 1940, he landed at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and four years later would publish the still fascinating quantum-mechanics book “What Is Life?”

Schrodinger returned to the University of Vienna in 1956, and died in his hometown five years later.

This scientific virtuoso may have died at age 73, but as Google helps us celebrate his place in the pantheon, his legacy seems as deathless and many-lived as ever. For Schrödinger’s presence to appear eternal, perhaps we only have to observe it.

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By  |  07:55 AM ET, 08/12/2013

Tags:  google doodles, erwin schrodinger

 
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