Article ID: CBB001421691

From the Necessary to the Possible: The Genesis of the Spin-Statistics Theorem (2014)


The spin-statistics theorem, which relates the intrinsic angular momentum of a single particle to the type of quantum statistics obeyed by a system of many such particles, is one of the central theorems in quantum field theory and the physics of elementary particles. It was first formulated in 1939/40 by Wolfgang Pauli and his assistant Markus Fierz. This paper discusses the developments that led up to this first formulation, starting from early attempts in the late 1920s to explain why charged matter particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics, while photons obey Bose-Einstein statistics. It is demonstrated how several important developments paved the way from such general philosophical musings to a general (and provable) theorem, most notably the use of quantum field theory, the discovery of new elementary particles, and the generalization of the notion of spin. It is also discussed how the attempts to prove a spin-statistics connection were driven by Pauli from formal to more physical arguments, culminating in Pauli's 1940 proof. This proof was a major success for the beleaguered theory of quantum field theory and the methods Pauli employed proved essential for the renaissance of quantum field theory and the development of renormalization techniques in the late 1940s.

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Authors & Contributors
Rédei, Miklós
Eckert, Michael
Alain Ulazia
Blum, Alexander
Zhang, Feng
Zangwill, Andrew
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Perspectives on Science
European Physical Journal H
Revue de Synthèse
Physics in Perspective
Philosophy of Science
Springer International Publishing
Oxford University Press
University of Pittsburgh
Quantum mechanics
Theoretical physics
Atomic, nuclear, and particle physics
Fields and field theory
Philosophy of science
Pauli, Wolfgang Ernst
Bohr, Niels Henrik David
Heisenberg, Werner
Einstein, Albert
Sommerfeld, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm
Von Neumann, John
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
20th century, late
United States
Munich (Germany)
Universidade de Lisboa
Munich. Universität
Carnegie Institute of Technology
Niels Bohr Institutet, Copenhagen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT

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