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A Translation of the article on Spinning
Electrons by G.E. Uhlenbeck and S.A. Goudsmit


NATURE, volume 117 (1926), 264f

So far as we know, the idea of a quantised spinning of the electron was put forward for the first time by A. H. Comptor who pointed out the possible bearing of this idea on the origin of th natural unit of magnetism. Without being aware of Compton's suggestior we have directed attention in a recent note to the possibility of applying, the spinning electron to interpret a number of features of the quantun theory of the Zeeman effect, which were brought to light by the work, especially of van Lohuizen, Sommerfeld, Land´e, and Pauli and also of the analysis of complex spectra in general. In this letter we shall try to show how our hypothesis enables us to overcome certain fundamental difficultie which have hitherto hindered the interpretation of the results arrived at by those authors.

To start with, we shall consider the effect of the spin on the manifold of stationary states which corresponds to motion of an electron around a nucleus. On account of its magnetic moment, the electron will be acted on by a couple just as if it were placed at rest in a magnetic field of magnitude equal to the vector product of the nuclear electric field and the velocity of the electron relative to the nucleus divided by the velocity of light. This couple will cause a slow precession of the spin axis, the conservation of the angular momentum of the atom being ensured by a compensating precession of the orbital plane of the electron. This complexity of the motion requires that, corresponding to each stationary state of ai imaginary atom, in which the electron has no spin, there shall in genera exist a set of states which differ in the orientation of the spin axis relative to the orbital plane, the other characteristics of the motion remaining unchanged. If the spin corresponds to a one-quantum rotation there will be in general two such states. Further, the energy difference of these state will, as a simple calculation shows, be proportional to the fourth power of the nuclear charge. It will also depend on the quantum numbers which define the state of motion of the non-spinning electron in a way very similar to the energy differences connected with the rotation of the orbit in its own plane arising from the relativity variation of the electronic mass. We are indebted to Dr. Heisenberg for a letter containing some calculations on the quantitative side of the problem.

This result suggests an essential modification of the explanation hitherto given of the fine structure of the hydrogen-like spectra. As an illustration we may consider the energy levels corresponding to electronic orbits for which the principal quantum number is equal to three. The scheme on the left side of the accompanying figure [Fig. 58-1] corresponds to the results

to be expected from Sommerfeld's theory. The so-called azimuthal quantum number k is defined by the quantity of moment of momentur [angular momentum] of the electron about the nucleus, Kh/2&pi', where k=1, 2, 3. According to the new theory, depicted in the scheme* on the right, this moment of momentum is given by Kh/2π, where K = 1/2, 3/2, 5/2. The total angular momentum of the atom is Jh/2π, where J = 1, 2, 3. The symbols K and J correspond to those used by Land&ecute; in his classification of the Zeeman effects of the optical multiplets. The letters S, P, D also relate to the analogy with the structure of optical spectra which we conside below. The dotted lines represent the position of the energy levels to be exected in the absence of the spin of the electron. As the arrows indicate, the

*Quite independently of the ideas discussed here, a scheme of levels corresponding to this figure has been previously proposed by the writers, on the ground of the formal analogy between spectral structures. From similar formal considerations this scheme has recently also been arrived at by J. C. Slater.

spin now splits each level into two, with the exception of the level K = 1/2, which is only displaced.

In order to account for the experimental facts, the resulting levels must fall in just the same places as the levels given by the older theory. Nevertheless, the two schemes differ fundamentally. In particular, the n theory explains at once the occurrence of certain components in the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum and of the helium spark spectrum which according to the old scheme would correspond to transitions where K remains unchanged. Unless these transitions could be ascribed to the action of electric forces in the discharge which would perturb the electronic motion, their occurrence would be in disagreement with the correspondence principle, which only allows transitions in which the azimut quantum number changes by one unit. In the new scheme we see that, in the transitions in question, K will actually change by one unit and only J will remain unchanged. Their occurrence is, therefore, quite in conformity with the correspondence principle.

The modification proposed is specially important for explaining the structure of X-ray spectra. These spectra differ from the hydrogen-like spectra by the appearance of the so-called "screening" doublets, which are ascribed to the interaction of the electrons within the atom, effect mainly through reducing the effect of the nuclear attraction. In our view these screening doublets correspond to pairs of levels which have the same angular momentum J but different azimuthal quantum numbers K. Consequently, the orbits will penetrate to different distances from the nucleus, so that the screening of the nuclear charge by the other electron in the atom will have different effects. This screening effect will, however, be the same for a pair of levels which have the same K but different J's and correspond to the same orbital shape. Such pairs of levels were, on the older theory, labelled with values of K differing by one unit, and it was quite impossible to understand why these so-called "relativity" doublet should appear separately from the screening doublets. On our view, the doublets in question may more properly be termed "spin" doublets, since the sole reason for their appearance is the difference in orientation of the spin axis relative to the orbital plane. It should be emphasised that our interpretation is in complete accordance with the correspondence principle as regards the rules of combination of X-ray levels.

The assumption of the spinning electron leads to a new insight into the remarkable analogy between the multiplet structure of the optical spectra and the structure of X-ray spectra, which was emphasised especially by Landé and Millikan. While the attempt to refer this analogy to a relativity effect common to all the structures was most unsatisfactory, it obtains immediate explanation on the hypothesis of the spin electron. If, for example, we consider the spectra of the alkaline type, we are led to recognise in the well-known doublets regular spin doublets of the character described above. In fact, this enables us to explain the dependence of the double width on the effective nuclear charge and the quantum numbers describing the orbit, as well as the rules of combination.

The simplicity of the alkaline spectra is due to the fact that the consists of an electron revolving round an atomic residue which contains only completed electronic groups, which are magnetically inert. When we pass to atoms in which several electrons revolve round a residue of this kind we meet with new features, since we have to take account of of other directing influences on the spin axis of each electron besides the couple due to its own motion in the electric field. Not only does this enable us to account for the appearance of multiplets of higher complexity, but it also seems to throw light on the so-called "branching" of spectra, which usually accompanies the adding of a further electron to the atom, and for which hitherto no satisfactory explanation has been given. In fact, it seems that the introduction of the concept of the spinning electron makes it possible throughout to maintain the principle of the successive building up of atoms utilised by Bohr in his general discussion of the relation between spectra and the natural system of the elements. Above all, it may be possible to account for the important results arrived at by Pauli, without having to assume an unmechanical "duality" in the binding of the electrons.

So far we have not mentioned the Zeeman effect, although the introduction of the spinning electron was primarily suggested by the anomalous Zeeman effects shown by the components of multiplet structures. From the point of view of the correspondence principle this effect shows that the influence of a magnetic field on the motion the atom differs considerably from that to be expected if the electron had no spin. In fact, from the well-known theorem of Larmor we would expect the effect on any spectral line to be of the simple Lorentz type, quite independently of the character of the multiplet structure. Therefore the appearance of the anomalous Zeeman effects has hitherto presentee grave difficulties. However, these difficulties disappear at once when, as assumed, the electron has a spin and the ratio between magnetic moment and angular momentum of this spin is different from that corresponding to the revolution of the electron in an orbit large compared with its own size. On this assumption the spin axis of an electron not affected by otherforces would precess with a frequency different from the Larmor rotation. It is easily shown that the resultant motion of the atom for magnetic fields of small intensity will be of just the type revealed by Landé's analysis. If the field is so strong that its influence on the precession of the spin axis is comparable with that due to the orbital motion in the atom, this motion will be changed in a way which directly explains the gradual transformation of the multiplet structure for increasing fields known as the Paschen-Back effect.

It seems possible on these lines to develop a quantitative theory of the Zeeman effect, if it is assumed that the ratio between magnetic moment and angular momentum due to the spin is twice the ratio corresponding to orbital revolution. At present, however, it seems difficult to reconcile this assumption with a quantitative analysis of our explanation of the fine structure of levels. In fact it leads, in a preliminary calculation, to widths of the spin doublets just twice as large as those required by of observation. It must be remembered, however, that we are here dealin with problems which for their final solution require a closer study of quantum mechanics and perhaps also of questions concerning the structure of the electron.

In conclusion, we wish to acknowledge our indebtedness to Prof. Niel Bohr for an enlightening discussion, and for criticisms which helped u distinguish between the essential points and the more technical details of the new interpretation.


Comments of Neils Bohr on the article

Having had the opportunity of reading this interesting letter by Mr Goudsmit and Mr. Uhlenbeck, I am glad to add a few words which may be regarded as an addition to my article on atomic theory and mechanics, which was published as a supplement to NATURE of December 5, 1925 As stated there, the attempts which have been made to account for the properties of the elements by applying the quantum theory to the nuclear atom have met with serious difficulties in the finer structure of spectra and the related problems. In my article expression was given to the view that these difficulties were inherently connected with the limited possibility of representing the stationary states of the atom by a mechanical model. The situation seems, however, to be somewhat altered by the introduction of the hypothesis of the spinning electron which, in spite of the incompleteness of the conclusions that can be derived from models promises to be a very welcome supplement to our ideas of atomic structure. In fact, as Mr. Goudsmit and Mr. Uhlenbeck have described it their letter, this hypothesis throws new light on many of the difficulties which have puzzled the workers in this field during the last few years Indeed, it opens up a very hopeful prospect of our being able to account more extensively for the properties of elements by means of mechanica models, at least in the qualitative way characteristic of applications of the correspondence principle. This possibility must be the more welcomed at the present time, when the prospect is held out of a quantitative treatment of atomic problems by the new quantum mechanics initiated by the work of Heisenberg, which aims at a precise formulation of the correspondence between classical mechanics and quantum theory.

N. Bohr