The development of the quantum-mechanical electron theory of metals: 1928

Lillian Hoddeson, Gordon Baym, Michael Eckert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We trace the fundamental developments and events, in their intellectual as well as institutional settings, of the emergence of the quantum-mechanical electron theory of metals from 1928 to 1933. This paper continues an earlier study of the first phase of the development from 1926 to 1928 devoted to finding the general quantum-mechanical framework. Solid state, by providing a large and ready number of concrete problems, functioned during the period treated here as a target of application for the recently developed quantum mechanics; a rush of interrelated successes by numerous theoretical physicists, including Bethe, Bloch, Heisenberg, Peierls, Landau, Slater, and Wilson, established in these years the network of concepts that structure the modern quantum theory of solids. We focus on three examples: band theory, magnetism, and superconductivity, the former two immediate successes of the quantum theory, the latter a persistent failure in this period. The history revolves in large part around the theoretical physics institutes of the Universities of Munich, under Sommerfeld, Leipzig under Heisenberg, and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich under Pauli. The year 1933 marked both a climax and a transition; as the laying of foundations reached a temporary conclusion, attention began to shift from general formulations to computation of the properties of particular solids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-327
Number of pages41
JournalReviews of Modern Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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