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Archive for History of Exact Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 159–211 | Cite as

Einstein and the Early Theory of Superconductivity, 1919–1922

  • Tilman Sauer
Article

Abstract

Einstein's early thoughts about superconductivity are discussed as a case study of how theoretical physics reacts to experimental findings that are incompatible with established theoretical notions. One such notion that is discussed is the model of electric conductivity implied by Drude's electron theory of metals, and the derivation of the Wiedemann-Franz law within this framework. After summarizing the experimental knowledge on superconductivity around 1920, the topic is then discussed both on a phenomenological level in terms of implications of Maxwell's equations for the case of infinite conductivity, and on a microscopic level in terms of suggested models for superconductive charge transport. Analyzing Einstein's manuscripts and correspondence as well as his own 1922 paper on the subject, it is shown that Einstein had a sustained interest in superconductivity and was well informed about the phenomenon. It is argued that his appointment as special professor in Leiden in 1920 was motivated to a considerable extent by his perception as a leading theoretician of quantum theory and condensed matter physics and the hope that he would contribute to the theoretical direction of the experiments done at Kamerlingh Onnes' cryogenic laboratory. Einstein tried to live up to these expectations by proposing at least three experiments on the phenomenon, one of which was carried out twice in Leiden. Compared to other theoretical proposals at the time, the prominent role of quantum concepts was characteristic of Einstein's understanding of the phenomenon. The paper concludes with comments on Einstein's epistemological reflections on the problem.

Keywords

Early Theory Liquid Helium Temperature Electron Theory Perfect Conductivity Conduction Chain 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Einstein Papers ProjectCalifornia Institute of Technology 20-7PasadenaUSA

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