The legacy of Martin Gutzwiller

Last November, the Faculty of Science of the University of Fribourg awarded the doctor honoris causa to Martin Gutzwiller, with a threefold motivation: His outstanding contributions to theoretical physics, his active interest for science in general and his relations to Fribourg. Reason enough for emphasizing the eminent role Gutzwiller played during the last half century, especially in the two still very active research areas of quantum chaos and correlated electrons, as described in some detail here. Special thanks to Michael Berry for his profound analysis of Gutzwiller’s pioneering work in "quantum chaology".

Martin Gutzwiller was born 1925 in Basel. His father was an internationally known professor of law, from 1921 to 1926 at the University of Fribourg, from 1926 to 1936 at the University of Heidelberg and then, after having escaped with his family from Germany because of the harassment by the nazis, again in Fribourg from 1937 to 1956. Martin passed his first school years in Heidelberg. Back to Switzerland, he received his further education in Trogen and at the Collège Saint Michel in Fribourg, where he passed the final two years of gymnasium. In 1944 he started studying physics at the University of Fribourg, but then he enrolled at the ETH in Zürich, where he received the diploma in 1949. His diploma work on the magnetic moment of nucleons with vector-meson coupling, supervised by Wolfgang Pauli, undoubtedly had a strong impact on his view of physics. 45 years later, in a letter to Physics Today (August 1994), he admits having received “a marvelous education in early field theory”, but at the same time having been frustrated because the problem posed by Pauli could not be handled in a satisfactory way. Thus he pleads for coming back to "down-to-earth physics", instead of "chasing an elusive goal on the basis of abstract models".

After having received his diploma, Martin Gutzwiller worked during one year as an engineer in microwave transmission at Brown Boveri in Baden. In 1951 he moved to the US, where he spent most of the time since. At the University of Kansas he made his Ph. D. studies under the guidance of Max Dresden, on "Quantum Theory of Fields in Curved Space". From 1953 to 1960 he worked on geophysics in a laboratory of Shell in Houston, Texas. A position at the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, then still in Adliswil, brought him back to Switzerland for three years, but subsequently he settled definitely down in New York. He remained a researcher at IBM, from 1963 to 1970 at the Watson Laboratory and from 1970 to 1993 in Yorktown Heights. He was at the same time Adjunct Professor in Metallurgy at the Columbia University. After his retirement from IBM he became an Adjunct Professor at the Yale University.

Martin Gutzwiller has published about 40 papers, most of them alone. He received prestigious prizes, such as the Dannie Heinemann prize of the American Physical Society (1993) or the Max-Planck Medal of the German Physical Society (2003). His international recognition is also well documented by four issues of Foundations of Physics (2000/2001), published at the occasion of his 75th birthday. It is worth mentioning that his research activities were broader than quantum chaos and correlated electrons, they included such diverse topics as dislocations in solids, the quantum Toda lattice and the ephemerides of the moon.

Dionys Baeriswyl, Uni Fribourg


[Released: May 2012]