Cat-and-science themed Google doodle

August 12, 2013 • 3:14 am

Take a look at today’s Google doodle and guess what it’s about:

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 4.57.37 AMOf course you guessed correctly when you saw the dead and living cats in the box. Today would have been the 126th birthday of physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961). As the Guardian notes:

However, it was not until his late 30s that he was to change forever the face of physics by producing a series of papers that were all written and published over the course of a six-month period of theoretical research.

By 1925, then a professor of physics at the University of Zurich and holidaying in the Alps, Schrödinger formulated a wave-equation that accurately gave the energy levels of atoms. It formed the basis of the work that would earn him the Nobel prize in physics in 1933.

In subsequent years, he repeatedly criticised conventional interpretations of quantum mechanics by using the paradox of what would become known as Schrödinger’s cat. This thought experiment was designed to illustrate what he saw as the problems surrounding application of the conventional, so-called “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics to everyday objects.

He suffered from tuberculosis, and he formulated his famous wave equations in a sanatorium, later dying from the disease at age 73.

Here he is:


And here is the famous cat (you can see tons of funny Schrödinger’s cat cartoons and LOLcats here):


I’m sure some pedant will point out the absence of an umlaut in the LOLcat caption!

31 thoughts on “Cat-and-science themed Google doodle

  1. “I’m sure some pedant will point out the absence of an umlaut in the LOLcat caption!”

    Well, you already have… 

    So what’s left for us pedants? Well, there’s a missing “E” then: If it’s not “SCHRÖDINGER” (and some graphic designers would say it’s good practice to avoid diacritics in banner text) it should be “SCHROEDINGER”.



    1. I was told this by a relative of Erwin Schroedinger many years go on the JREF forum. So I think it’s safe to say you are correct.

          1. Yes, the “e” is a stand it for the umlaut for when you don’t have the ability to add an umlaut. 🙂

      1. If I had an umlaut in my name, that’s exactly how I’d write it – beats the hell out of dotting i’s with hearts!

  2. Oh, and germane to this website, we should also note Schrödinger’s What Is Life?, which addressed the question, “How can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?” [Wikipedia]

    Among other things, this was the inspiration for Prof. Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life.


    1. Schrödinger’s What Is Life was an influential essay that intrigued and inspired many early molecular biologists, particularly those who came from a physics background. It has also greatly influenced people who think about connections between thermodynamics and evolution.

  3. I would have thought they’d have been able to deal with tuberculosis with antibiotics by 1961, but apparently not.

    1. They’ve been able to treat TB since 1944.
      However, that doesn’t mean there is a 100% success rate, if you see what I mean.

      1. Now that you mention it, a friend of mine was treated for tuberculosis in the early 70s and she’s being treated again now, apparently they didn’t quite get rid of it all.

  4. Sigh … There is, of course, a third state that the cat can be in: “Bloody furious”

    (Greebo in Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies)

  5. Full quote:

    “Greebo had spent an irritating two minutes in that box. Technically, a cat locked in a box may be alive or it may be dead. You never know until you look. In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.”

  6. I’ve grown to dislike the analogy because I think it tends to support QM misconceptions as much as it helps explain QM. Saying a cat is neither alive nor dead until you open the box is as misleading as saying QM allows a person to teleport across distances. Hypothetically, yes QM allows that. Probabilistically, QM does not support it ever happening.

    In the case of the cat, the likelihood of one bit of the cat acting as an observer to other bits is just too great. You can keep one atom in superposition, sure. Maybe 60 or 600 or 6,000. I’ll even give you macroscopic objects that are very very cold and thermodynamically stable. But a cat is roughly 10E28 subatomic particles, at roughly 370K, most of them in an excited state (double meaning intended :), constantly undergoing chemical reactions with the other particles of the cat and the surrounding environment. They are not going to remain in a single superposition for even a nanosecond, any more than all of my subatomic particles are going to simultaneously appear 50 feet to the left of where they are now.

    Now physicists may get the lesson, and since Schroedinger was addressing physicists, I don’t begrudge him using it. But as a pedagogical tool for teaching laypeople about what QM does and does not allow to happen, I question its value. Cats and people do not behave in such ways, not even under QM, because of them being hot, excited, chemically interacting sets of macroscopic objects.

    1. I always thought that was the drawback with Schroedinger’s experiment. The *CAT* knew if it was alive or dead all along. (OK, leaving aside the question of how a dead cat could know anything, which isn’t really germane to the argument…)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *