- Published on 18 March 2022
Erwin Schrödinger’s landmark 1931 paper provided a basis for several important conceptions in quantum mechanics, but a new translation and commentary highlights its continuing relevance in modern statistical nanophysics
In 1931, Erwin Schrödinger published a ground-breaking paper, named ‘On the Reversal of the Laws of Nature.’ The study aimed to prove the possibility of a classical structure governed by probability, which displays a property called ‘time reversal symmetry’: where the physical laws underlying the system would remain the same, whether time flowed forwards or backwards. A new English translation of Schrödinger’s paper, published in EPJ H, has now been made by Raphael Chetrite at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis; Paolo Muratore-Ginanneschi at University of Helsinki; and Kai Schwieger at iteratc GmbH Stuttgart. In an additional commentary, the team emphasise the relevance of his intuitions for modern developments in statistical nanophysics.
Following its publication, Schrödinger’s paper sparked intense debate among physicists at the time on the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics. Yet for Chetrite, Muratore-Ginanneschi, and Schwieger, the interest in translating Schrödinger’s paper is more directly motivated by its second part, where he discusses fluctuations in time reversal. The latest laboratory techniques are now allowing researchers to carefully manipulate nanoscale systems within highly fluctuating environments. This poses fundamental questions as to how the laws of non-equilibrium statistical mechanics can be applied in these setups: calling for an overhaul in the theoretical approaches currently used to define time reversal during the dissipation of heat and energy.
Through a commentary following their translation, the team draw from further concepts introduced by Rolf Landauer, who argued that only irreversible changes of observable information can be fundamentally linked to the irreversible, finite dissipation of heat and energy. Here, the team explain how the problems considered by Schrödinger can be rephrased as an optimal control problem for nanoscale systems, and can ultimately be used to prove Landauer’s ideas. Overall, the study provides readers with a concise overview of Schrödinger’s paper, from the standpoint of the latest developments in statistical nanophysics.
R Chetrite, P Muratore-Ginanneschi, K Schwieger, E. Schrödinger’s 1931 paper “On the Reversal of the Laws of Nature” [“Über die Umkehrung der Naturgesetze”, Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, physikalisch-mathematische Klasse, 8 N9 144-153], EPJ H 46, 28 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1140/epjh/s13129-021-00032-7