Werner Heisenberg and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle


Werner Heisenberg, born in the dawn of the twentieth century became one of its greatest physicists; he is also among its most controversial. While still in his early twenties, he was among the handful of bright, young men who created quantum mechanics, the basic physics of the atom, and he became a leader of nuclear physics and elementary particle research. He is best known for his uncertainty principle, a component of the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of the meaning, and uses of quantum mechanics.

Through his successful life, he lived through two lost World Wars, Soviet Revolution, military occupation, two republics, political unrest, and Hitler's Third Reich. He was not a Nazi, and like most scientists of his day he tried not to become involved in politics. He played a prominent role in German nuclear testing during the World War II era. At age twenty-five he received a full professorship and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932 at the age of thirty-two. He climbed quickly to the top of his field beginning at the University of Munich when his interest in theoretical physics was sparked Heisenberg was born the son of August Heisenberg in W?rzburg, Germany on December 5, 1901. August Heisenberg was a professor of Greek at the University of Munich. His grandfather was a middle-class craftsman who's hard work paid enough to afford a good education for August Heisenberg. The successfulness of August Heisenberg allowed him to support his family well. The professorship at the University of Munich put them in the upper middle-class elite, and was paid three times the salary of skilled workers.

Through his life Werner Heisenberg was pestered with health problems. At the age of five, he nearly died with a lung infection which helped him get a little preferential treatment from his parents. During his early years, Werner was in constant competition with his brother Erwin which caused friction. The Heisenberg family were accomplished musicians. Every evening they would sit and practice together. August was on the piano, Erwin played the violin, and Werner played the cello. Their mother insisted that she had no musical talent as an excuse to not be involved in the male competition. Later Werner also learned the piano and used his musical talents as a social vehicle during the course of his life. This manly competition carried out in many other activities in the house. Sometimes August Heisenberg would make games out of difficult homework problems that the boys had. Werner once said when reflecting back on his childhood, "Our father used to play all kinds of games with [us] .... And since he was a good teacher, he found that the games could be used for the educating the children. So when my brother had some mathematical problems in his schoolwork .... he tried to use these problems as a kind of game and find out who could do them quickly, and so on. Somehow, I discovered that I could do that kind of mathematics rather quickly, so from that time on I had a special interest in mathematics." This constant competition caused many fights between the brothers. As they grew older the fights became more vicious. One time the fight became particularly bloody where they beat each other with wooden chairs. After this confrontation the brothers called a truce and hardly interacted with each other except for occasional family get togethers when they were adults. In school, Werner began to show his amazing ability early on. He excelled through school and always received complementary remarks from his teachers. As a result from the competition with his brother he developed a hard work ethic and a strong drive to succeed. Even though Werner was not a good runner he would run around the track timing himself with a stopwatch trying to improve his running times. A teacher of his once said, "The pupil is also extraordinary, self-confident and always wants to excel." Werner Heisenberg excelled in math, physics, and religion in which he consistently received 1's (the equivalent of A's). The subjects that he did not fair as well in were German and Athletics which he usually received 2's (or B's). At the age of thirteen one of his teachers noted that his interests were moving to more "physical-technical things". This change in interests moved Heisenberg along the path from the