Charles Galton Darwin’s 1922 quantum theory of optical dispersion
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science Boltzmannstraße 22,
2 Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Faradayweg 4, 14195 Berlin, Germany
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Received in final form: 4 February 2020
Published online: 29 May 2020
The quantum theory of dispersion was an important conceptual advancement which led out of the crisis of the old quantum theory in the early 1920s and aided in the formulation of matrix mechanics in 1925. The theory of Charles Galton Darwin, often cited only for its reliance on the statistical conservation of energy, was a wave-based attempt to explain dispersion phenomena at a time between the theories of Ladenburg and Kramers. It contributed to future successes in quantum theory, such as the virtual oscillator, while revealing through its own shortcomings the limitations of the wave theory of light in the interaction of light and matter. After its publication, Darwin’s theory was widely discussed amongst his colleagues as the competing interpretation to Compton’s in X-ray scattering experiments. It also had a pronounced influence on John C. Slater, whose ideas formed the basis of the BKS theory.
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