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The Kramers chair of Theoretical Physics



Professor Hendrik Anthony Kramers
The Dutch scientist HENDRIK ANTHONY KRAMERS was born in 1894 and studied physics in Leiden with Ehrenfest. In 1916 he became a student of Niels Bohr and later his trusted assistant and collaborator. It was said that Kramers was the representative of Bohr on earth. He was deeply involved with the early development of quantum mechanics and wrote in 1925 with Heisenberg the seminal paper on scattering of light by atoms. In 1926 he moved to Utrecht to take the chair of theoretical physics.
Kramers (Photo NTvN-1996/6) was the first in the Netherlands to teach the new quantum mechanics. In a series of papers he produced a number of applications of it, some of which became classics, such as his derivation of the zero point energy 1/2hn. Others dealt with molecules and ions, and with magnetism. At the same time as Kronig he derived the famous dispersion relations.In 1934 he was selected as the successor to Ehrenfest in Leiden, on the prestigious chair of Lorentz, where he wrote a remarkable textbook on quantum mechanics. He also got involved with statistical mechanics and in 1940 he published a paper on unimolecular chemical reactions, which was the subject of two conferences half a century later. At the Van der Waals conference in 1937 he saved the situation by formulating the thermodynamic limit. All his life he struggled with the interaction between particles and light; at the Shelter Island conference in 1946 he launched the idea of renormalisation, without which no field theory is possible. Yet this formal solution did not satisfy him, but he never found a better one.

Kramers loved music and literature, but above all physics. He did research because he was fascinated by it, not for public acclaim. His colleagues and students knew that he was a great man, but his fame penetrated only slowly to the outside world. Yet after the war he was elected as chairman of the technical subcommittee of the International Atomic Energy Commission. He also organized the building of a nuclear reactor using Dutch uranium and Norwegian heavy water, and he was at the cradle of the FOM.

Prof.dr. N.G. van Kampen
January 2000




Inauguration of the Kramers Chair

Photo ITP-UU 1975
When in 1975 the University of Utrecht founded the Kramers Chair for Theoretical Physics we were fortunate to find Professor Eugene P. Wigner (1902-1995) from the University at Princeton willing to accept the first invitation. His appointment was from Sept. 1, 1975 to Dec. 1, 1975, but due to his wife's health problem he could be present for only a part of this period. He arrived on October 6 and gave an inaugural lecture on the work of Kramers (October 13, 1975). Then he started a lecture course on the General Principles in Physics, in particular of course Symmetry Principles.

He was amazingly active and generously contributed to the scientific life at the Institute for Theoretical Physics. Numerous were the discussions on various aspects of physics and on the subjects that the members of the Institute were concerned with. He made a lasting impression on those who were there at the time. In addition he was invited for a number of talks at other universities in Holland and elsewhere. He even met with several authorities on the subject of Civil Defense. His impressive knowledge and unassuming personality are remembered by all those who were present at the time.

 Occupants of the Kramers Chair                  Course title
M. Vasiliev (Lebedev Physical Institute, 2014) Higher-Spin Gauge Theory
B. Evans (Univ. of Bristol, UK, 2011) Density Functional Theory: Classical and Quantum
W.G. Unruh (Univ. of British Columbia, 2010) Quantum fields in spacetimes
A.H. MacDonald (UT Austin, 2008) Quantum Hall Bilayers and Exciton Condensation
S. Carlip (Univ. of California, Davis, 2007) Introduction to Quantum Gravity
A.O. Caldeira (Campinas, Brasil, 2007) Macroscopic quantum phenomena and quantum dissipation
A.V. Ashtekar (Penn State Univ., 2006) Black holes in fundamental physics
P. Grassberger (Julich, 2005) Phase transitions and anomalous scaling in non-equilibrium systems
P. Wiegmann (Univ. of Chicago, 2004) Random matrix theory
J.-P. Hansen (Cambridge, 2003) Statistical mechanics of fluid interfaces
A. Schwimmer (Weizmann Inst., 2003) Anomalies in quantum field theory and string theory
M. den Nijs (Univ. of Washington, 2002) Scale invariance and critical phenomena in interfaces far from and in thermal equilibrium
B. Spivak (Seattle, 2001) Conductors, superconductors and disorder - many body systems
D. Olive (Swansea, 2000)  
B. Widom (Cornell, 1999)  
I. Goldhirsch (Tel Aviv, 1998)  
R.J. Silbey (Boston, 1997)  
E. Rabinovici (Jerusalem, 1996)  
L.D. Faddeev (Moscow, 1995)  
J.R. Dorfman (Maryland, 1994)  
J. Smith (Stony Brook, 1993)  
G. Gibbons (Cambridge, 1992)  
Yu.A. Simonov (Moscow, 1991)  
V.J. Emery (Brookhaven, 1991)  
P. van Nieuwenhuizen (Stony Brook, 1989/90)  
M.V. Berry (Bristol, 1980/81)  
M. Kac (Rockefeller, 1980)  
D. ter Haar (Oxford, 1979)  
T.T. Wu (Harvard, 1977/78)  
M. Dresden (Stony Brook, 1976)  
E.P. Wigner (Princeton,1975)