Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 55–78 | Cite as

From the Periphery: the genesis of Eugene P. Wigner's application of group theory to quantum mechanics

  • Michael Chayut


This paper traces the origins of Eugene Wigner's pioneering application of group theory to quantum physics to his early work in chemistry and crystallography. In the early 1920s, crystallography was the only discipline in which symmetry groups were routinely used. Wigner's early training in chemistry, and his work in crystallography with Herman Mark and Karl Weissenberg at the Kaiser Wilhelm institute for fiber research in Berlin exposed him to conceptual tools which were absent from the pedagogy available to physicists for many years to come. This both enabled and pushed him to apply the group theoretic approach to quantum physics. It took many years for the approach first introduced by Wigner in the 1920s – and whose reception by the physicists was initially problematical – to assume the pivotal place it now holds in physical theory and education. This is but one example that attests to the historic contribution made by the periphery in initiating new types of thought-perspectives and scientific careers.


Physical Chemistry Quantum Mechanic Group Theory Symmetry Group Theoretic Approach 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Chayut
    • 1
  1. 1.Chemical Heritage FoundationPhiladelphia, PAU.S.A.

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