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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index S > Arnold Sommerfeld Quotes

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Arnold Sommerfeld
(5 Dec 1868 - 26 Apr 1951)

German physicist whose atomic model permitted the explanation of fine-structure spectral lines.


Science Quotes by Arnold Sommerfeld (7 quotes)

After the discovery of spectral analysis no one trained in physics could doubt the problem of the atom would be solved when physicists had learned to understand the language of spectra. So manifold was the enormous amount of material that has been accumulated in sixty years of spectroscopic research that it seemed at first beyond the possibility of disentanglement. An almost greater enlightenment has resulted from the seven years of Rφntgen spectroscopy, inasmuch as it has attacked the problem of the atom at its very root, and illuminates the interior. What we are nowadays hearing of the language of spectra is a true 'music of the spheres' in order and harmony that becomes ever more perfect in spite of the manifold variety. The theory of spectral lines will bear the name of Bohr for all time. But yet another name will be permanently associated with it, that of Planck. All integral laws of spectral lines and of atomic theory spring originally from the quantum theory. It is the mysterious organon on which Nature plays her music of the spectra, and according to the rhythm of which she regulates the structure of the atoms and nuclei.
— Arnold Sommerfeld
Atombau und Spektrallinien (1919), viii, Atomic Structure and Spectral Lines, trans. Henry L. Brose (1923), viii.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (192)  |  Atomic Theory (11)  |  Niels Bohr (38)  |  Discovery (481)  |  Harmony (35)  |  Integral (3)  |  Interior (9)  |  Language (94)  |  Music Of The Spheres (2)  |  Mystery (89)  |  Nature (692)  |  Nucleus (26)  |  Order (92)  |  Perfection (49)  |  Max Planck (55)  |  Problem (244)  |  Quantum Theory (38)  |  Regulation (14)  |  Research (403)  |  Rhythm (7)  |  Wilhelm Rφntgen (7)  |  Solution (137)  |  Spectral Analysis (2)  |  Spectral Line (3)  |  Spectroscopy (10)  |  Spectrum (17)  |  Structure (137)  |  Theory (452)  |  Understanding (298)  |  Variety (37)

If I knew something about it, I wouldn’t lecture on it!
— Arnold Sommerfeld
As quoted in David C. Cassidy, Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb (2009), 86. According to Cassidy, this was the response when Sommerfeld was “once asked how he could lecture on a subject he did not understand.” Footnoted as “WH [Werner Heisenberg] to his father, 15 May 1918.”
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (892)  |  Lecture (42)

If you want to be a physicist, you must do three things—first, study mathematics, second, study more mathematics, and third, do the same.
— Arnold Sommerfeld
Interview with Paul H. Kirkpatrick, in Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists (1978), 200.
Science quotes on:  |  Mathematics (474)  |  Physicist (89)  |  Study (236)

Mathematics is like childhood diseases. The younger you get it, the better.
— Arnold Sommerfeld
Quoted by Dudley Herschbach in 'Einstein as a Student', collected in Peter Galison (ed.), Gerald James Holton (ed.), Silvan S. Schweber (ed.), Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Srt, and Modern Culture (2008), 236. The remark quoted was footnoted as heard by Dudley Herschbach many years earlier in a class by George Polya, but not found in print.
Science quotes on:  |  Better (80)  |  Child (116)  |  Disease (200)  |  Mathematics (474)  |  Youth (47)

My father, the practicing physician, … was a passionate collector of natural objects (amber, shells, minerals, beetles, etc.) and a great friend of the natural sciences. … To my energetic and intellectually vigorous mother I owe an infinite debt.
— Arnold Sommerfeld
In 'Sommerfeld, Arnold (Johannes Wilhelm)', Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 12, 525. Cited from 'Autobiographische Skizze', Gesammelte Schriften, Vol 4, 673–682.
Science quotes on:  |  Amber (3)  |  Autobiography (51)  |  Beetle (7)  |  Collector (6)  |  Debt (3)  |  Energetic (4)  |  Father (31)  |  Friend (38)  |  Great (115)  |  Infinite (61)  |  Intellectual (29)  |  Mineral (28)  |  Mother (37)  |  Nature (692)  |  Owe (7)  |  Physician (198)  |  Science (1148)  |  Shell (28)  |  Vigorous (4)

The same applies to the concept of force as does to any other physical concept: Verbal definitions are meaningless; real definitions are given through a measuring process.
— Arnold Sommerfeld
As given in epigraph, without citation, in Eberhard Zeidler and Juergen Quandt (trans.), Nonlinear Functional Analysis and its Applications: IV: Applications to Mathematical Physics (2013), 9.
Science quotes on:  |  Concept (50)  |  Definition (114)  |  Force (112)  |  Meaningless (10)  |  Measurement (136)  |  Physical (50)  |  Process (148)  |  Real (45)  |  Verbal (2)

Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don’t understand it at all The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two points. The third time you go through it, you know you don't understand it, but by that time you are so used to the subject, it doesn't bother you anymore.
— Arnold Sommerfeld
Quoted, without citation, in Stanley W. Angrist and ‎Loren G. Hepler, Order and Chaos: Laws of Energy and Entropy (1967), 215. The authors identify it as “perhaps apocryphal.” The quote is used as epigraph, dated as 1950 in Anton Z. Capri, Quips, Quotes, and Quanta: An Anecdotal History of Physics (2011), 50. The quote is introduced as “When asked why he did not write on that field he replied somewhat as follows,” by Keith J. Laidler in Physical Chemistry with Biological Applications (1978), 145.
Science quotes on:  |  Bother (4)  |  Funny (6)  |  Know (49)  |  Point (36)  |  Subject (85)  |  Thermodynamics (21)  |  Think (40)  |  Understand (25)


See also:
  • 5 Dec - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Sommerfeld's birth.
  • Arnold Sommerfeld: Science, Life and Turbulent Times, by Michael Eckert. - book suggestion.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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