Article ID: CBB826502592

Rudolf Ladenburg and the first quantum interpretation of optical dispersion (2020)


In 1921, the experimental physicist Rudolf Ladenburg put forward the first quantum interpretation of optical dispersion. Theoretical physicists had tried to explain dispersion from the point of view of quantum theory ever since 1913, when Niels Bohr proposed his quantum model of atom. Yet, their theories proved unsuccessful. It was Ladenburg who gave a breakthrough step toward our quantum understanding of dispersion. In order to understand Ladenburg’s step, I analyze Ladenburg’s experimental work on dispersion prior to 1913, the reasons why the first theories of dispersion after 1913 were not satisfactory, and Ladenburg’s 1921 proposal. I argue that Ladenburg’s early experimental work on dispersion is indispensable to understand his 1921 paper. The specific kind of experiments he performed before 1913, the related interpretative problems, and the way he tried to solve them, led him reapproach the dispersion problem in 1921 in a way that was completely different from the way theoretical physicists had done it before.

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Authors & Contributors
Celestino, Cibelle
Martins, Roberto de Andrade
Aboites, Vicente
Franklin, Allan D.
Freire, Olival, Jr.
Heeffer, Albrecht
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Perspectives on Science
Foundations of Science
Science and Education
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Harvard University Press
Experiments and experimentation
Explanation; hypotheses; theories
Philosophy of science
Quantum theory
Newton, Isaac
Descartes, René
Michelson, Albert Abraham
Morley, Edward Williams
Bell, John Stewart
Fermat, Pierre de
Time Periods
17th century
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
18th century
20th century, late
Great Britain

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