How Sommerfeld extended Bohr’s model of the atom (1913–1916)
Deutsches Museum, D-80306 Munich, Germany
Received: 13 December 2013
Received in final form: 17 December 2013
Published online: 30 January 2014
Sommerfeld’s extension of Bohr’s atomic model was motivated by the quest for a theory of the Zeeman and Stark effects. The crucial idea was that a spectral line is made up of coinciding frequencies which are decomposed in an applied field. In October 1914 Johannes Stark had published the results of his experimental investigation on the splitting of spectral lines in hydrogen (Balmer lines) in electric fields, which showed that the frequency of each Balmer line becomes decomposed into a multiplet of frequencies. The number of lines in such a decomposition grows with the index of the line in the Balmer series. Sommerfeld concluded from this observation that the quantization in Bohr’s model had to be altered in order to allow for such decompositions. He outlined this idea in a lecture in winter 1914/15, but did not publish it. The First World War further delayed its elaboration. When Bohr published new results in autumn 1915, Sommerfeld finally developed his theory in a provisional form in two memoirs which he presented in December 1915 and January 1916 to the Bavarian Academy of Science. In July 1916 he published the refined version in the Annalen der Physik. The focus here is on the preliminary Academy memoirs whose rudimentary form is better suited for a historical approach to Sommerfeld’s atomic theory than the finished Annalen-paper. This introductory essay reconstructs the historical context (mainly based on Sommerfeld’s correspondence). It will become clear that the extension of Bohr’s model did not emerge in a singular stroke of genius but resulted from an evolving process.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag 2014