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Louis de Broglie studied history at the Sorbonne in Paris, a career in the diplomatic service. At the age of 18 he began to study physics and after being assigned a research topic in history he chose, after worrying greatly about the decision, to undertake research in physics.
De Broglie was best known for his particle-wave duality theory that matter has the properties of both particles and waves. His doctoral thesis of 1924 put forward this theory of electron waves, based on the work of Einstein and Planck. The wave nature of the electron was experimentally confirmed in 1927 by C J Davisson, C H Kunsman and L H Germer in the U.S.A. and by G P Thomson in Scotland. De Broglie, during an interview in 1963, described how his discoveries came about:-
As in my conversations with my brother we always arrived at the conclusion that in the case of x-rays one had both waves and corpuscles, thus suddenly - ... it was certain in the course of summer 1923 - I got the idea that one had to extend this duality to material particles, especially to electrons. And I realised that, on the one hand, the Hamilton-Jacobi theory pointed somewhat in that direction, for it can be applied to particles and, in addition, it represents a geometrical optics; on the other hand, in quantum phenomena one obtains quantum numbers, which are rarely found in mechanics but occur very frequently in wave phenomena and in all problems dealing with wave motion.After his doctorate, de Broglie remained at the Sorbonne, becoming professor of theoretical physics at the Henri Poincaré Institute in 1928. De Broglie taught there until he retired in 1962. In 1945 he became an adviser to the French Atomic Energy Commissariat.
De Broglie's theory of electron matter waves was later used by Schrödinger to develop wave mechanics. De Broglie received the Nobel Prize in 1929.
De Broglie described himself as
having much more the state of mind of a pure theoretician than that of an experimenter or engineer, loving especially the general and philosophical view ... .He wrote many popular works which demonstrate his interest in the philosophical implications of modern physics, including Matter and Light: The New Physics (1939); The Revolution in Physics (1953); Physics and Microphysics (1960); and New Perspectives in Physics (1962).
The central question in de Broglie's life was whether the statistical nature of atomic physics reflects an ignorance of the underlying theory or whether statistics is all that can be known. For most of his life he believed the former although as a young researcher he had at first believed that the statistics hide our ignorance. Perhaps surprisingly, he returned to this view late in his life stating that
the statistical theories hide a completely determined and ascertainable reality behind variables which elude our experimental techniques.References (9 books/articles)
References elsewhere in this archive:
Tell me about Broglie's work on quantum theory
Louis V P R de Broglie was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1953. You can see a history of the Royal Society and a list of the members among the mathematicians in our archive.
Rue de Broglie is in the 13th Arrondissement in Paris. You can see a list of Paris streets named after mathematicians in our archive.
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