Sunday, October 18, 2009

October 18: Pascual Jordan

Pascual Jordan
October 18, 1902 - July 31, 1980

Pascual Jordan was a theoretical and mathematical physicist who made significant contributions to quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. He contributed much to the mathematical form of matrix mechanics, and developed canonical anticommutation relations for fermions. While the Jordan algebra he invented is no longer employed in quantum mechanics, it has found other mathematical applications.

Jordan joined the Nazi party and became a brownshirt, a political affiliation which isolated him within the physics community.

Jordan enrolled in the Hanover Technical University in 1921 where he studied an eclectic mix of zoology, mathematics, and physics. As was typical for a German university student of the time, he shifted his studies to another university before obtaining a degree. Göttingen University, his destination in 1923, was then at the very zenith of its prowess and fame in mathematics and the physical sciences. At Göttingen Jordan became an assistant first to mathematician Richard Courant and then to physicist Max Born.

Together with Max Born and Werner Heisenberg he was co-author of an important series of papers on quantum mechanics. He went on to pioneer early quantum field theory before largely switching his focus to cosmology before World War II.

Jordan devised a type of non-associative algebras, now named Jordan algebras in his honor, in an attempt to create an algebra of observables for quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. Today, von Neumann algebras are employed for this purpose. Jordan algebras have since been applied in projective geometry and number theory.

Had Jordan not joined the Nazi party, it is conceivable that he could have shared the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Max Born.

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