Article ID: CBB001421684

Attempts at a Determination of the Fine-Structure Constant from First Principles: A Brief Historical Overview (2014)


It has been a notably elusive task to find a remotely sensical ansatz for a calculation of Sommerfeld's electrodynamic fine-structure constant QED 1 / 137.036 based on first principles. However, this has not prevented a number of researchers to invest considerable effort into the problem, despite the formidable challenges, and a number of attempts have been recorded in the literature. Here, we review a possible approach based on the quantum electrodynamic (QED) function, and on algebraic identities relating QED to invariant properties of “internal” symmetry groups, as well as attempts to relate the strength of the electromagnetic interaction to the natural cutoff scale for other gauge theories. Conjectures based on both classical as well as quantum-field theoretical considerations are discussed. We point out apparent strengths and weaknesses of the most prominent attempts that were recorded in the literature. This includes possible connections to scaling properties of the Einstein-Maxwell Lagrangian which describes gravitational and electromagnetic interactions on curved space-times. Alternative approaches inspired by string theory are also discussed. A conceivable variation of the fine-structure constant with time would suggest a connection of QED to global structures of the Universe, which in turn are largely determined by gravitational interactions.

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Authors & Contributors
Frenkel, Victor Ya.
Dieks, Dennis
Cao, Tian Yu
Balashov, Yuri
Gorelik, Gennadii E.
Kojevnikov, Alexei
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Physics in Perspective
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
European Physical Journal H
Annalen der Physik
Blackwell Publishers
Prometheus Books
Cambridge University Press
University of Pittsburgh
Quantum mechanics
Fields and field theory
Philosophy of science
Einstein, Albert
Maxwell, James Clerk
Hilbert, David
Levi-Civita, Tullio
Grossmann, Marcus A.
Everett, Hugh, III
Time Periods
20th century
20th century, early
19th century
20th century, late

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