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Why vacations are essential for physics


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Tuesday September 08, 2020

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Tuesday September 08, 2020

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Vacations are good for your health, they allow you to get away from the daily grind and let yourself unwind. They are vital in enabling you to recharge your batteries and get your psyche away from work, work, work. While they allow us to forget about the office for a bit, they can also help to stimulate us to create new and innovative ideas. Such an event occurred for a young German physicist struggling to make the breakthrough he was so very close to in 1925. Werner Heisenberg needed a break.
Something’s got to give
He had experienced a mental block and to make matters worse, he was suffering from a horrendous bout of hayfever. Heisenberg resided in Göttingen, and during one summer he was tortured by persistent allergic reactions, so something had to change. So he went on vacation to Helgoland, a tiny island in the middle of the North Sea to give his sinuses a rest more than anything else.

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Tuesday September 08, 2020

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A eureka moment
Changing location really helped him as the change of scenery allowed him to breathe and think more clearly. Finding inspiration for his research, he realized he was employing a technique that would not permit him to measure his results, so he reformatted the mathematics into a quantity he could measure. Upon his return to Göttingen, his research partner managed to connect the dots, and the German research team took the tentative steps into what is now known as modern quantum mechanics.
Hey! I’m tired too
The strategic taking of a vacation was repeated with similar progress in the same year, 1925, with an equal measure of success. Erwin Schrödinger was working on his own quantum problem, regarding states within atoms. Desperately trying to make a breakthrough in his equations, he kept finding himself confronted with mathematical hurdles.
After months of working and not getting anywhere fast, Schrödinger took a skiing vacation with one of his lady friends. This bout of rest and recreation was just the ticket, and, after hitting the slopes during the day and working over a desk in the evenings, he had found the equation he was so desperately looking for. That equation is now known as the Schrödinger equation, and it allows us to describe states of electrons found in hydrogen using de Broglie’s terms of electron waves.
Mental fatigue is not your friend
Clearly, physicists have demanding jobs and affording themselves a break every so often will enable them to refresh and reboot, something which can boost the creative process. Instead of slogging away for 12 hours a day in a lab, it would be useful to understand you aren’t necessarily getting anywhere and you need to come back in the next day or two with a fresher pair of eyes.

Please, boss, it’ll help you too
While not every physicist will figure out such groundbreaking theories, using the examples of the two scientists above shows that even the most brilliant mind needs time to stop working and chill out. Often bosses want more and more from their employees but think that going at it for hours upon hours will get the job done, sometimes you need to take a step, or two, backward to move forward. So if you’re stuck on a problem in your work, see if your boss will give you a little break, it might prove to be the best solution to yours and their problem.

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