From the necessary to the possible: the genesis of the spin-statistics theorem
Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte,
Received in final form: 8 August 2014
Published online: 22 September 2014
The spin-statistics theorem, which relates the intrinsic angular momentum of a single particle to the type of quantum statistics obeyed by a system of many such particles, is one of the central theorems in quantum field theory and the physics of elementary particles. It was first formulated in 1939/40 by Wolfgang Pauli and his assistant Markus Fierz. This paper discusses the developments that led up to this first formulation, starting from early attempts in the late 1920s to explain why charged matter particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics, while photons obey Bose-Einstein statistics. It is demonstrated how several important developments paved the way from such general philosophical musings to a general (and provable) theorem, most notably the use of quantum field theory, the discovery of new elementary particles, and the generalization of the notion of spin. It is also discussed how the attempts to prove a spin-statistics connection were driven by Pauli from formal to more physical arguments, culminating in Pauli’s 1940 proof. This proof was a major success for the beleaguered theory of quantum field theory and the methods Pauli employed proved essential for the renaissance of quantum field theory and the development of renormalization techniques in the late 1940s.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag 2014