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Hermann Klaus Hugo Weyl (9 November 1885 – 8 December 1955) was a German mathematician and theoretical physicist. Although much of his working life was spent in Zürich, Switzerland and then Princeton, he is associated with the University of Göttingen tradition of mathematics, represented by David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. His research has had major significance for theoretical physics as well as purely mathematical disciplines including number theory. He was one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century, and an important member of the Institute for Advanced Study during its early years.

Weyl published technical and some general works on space, time, matter, ...view middle of the document...

After taking a teaching post for a few years, he left Göttingen for Zürich to take the chair of mathematics in the ETH Zurich, where he was a colleague of Albert Einstein, who was working out the details of the theory of general relativity. Einstein had a lasting influence on Weyl who became fascinated by mathematical physics. Weyl met Erwin Schrödinger in 1921, who was appointed Professor at the University of Zürich. They were to become close friends over time.

Weyl left Zürich in 1930 to become Hilbert's successor at Göttingen, leaving when the Nazis assumed power in 1933, particularly as his wife was Jewish. The events persuaded him to move to the new Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He remained there until his retirement in 1951. Together with his wife, he spent his time in Princeton and Zürich, and died in Zürich in 1955.

Contributions

Hermann Weyl (left) and Ernst Peschl (right).

Geometric foundations of manifolds and physics

Further information: Weyl transformation, Weyl tensor

In 1913, Weyl published Die Idee der Riemannschen Fläche (The Concept of a Riemann Surface), which gave a unified treatment of Riemann surfaces. In it Weyl utilized point set topology, in order to make Riemann surface theory more rigorous, a model followed in later work on manifolds. He absorbed L. E. J. Brouwer's early work in topology for this purpose.

Weyl, as a major figure in the Göttingen school, was fully apprised of Einstein's work from its early days. He tracked the development of relativity physics in his Raum, Zeit, Materie (Space, Time, Matter) from 1918, reaching a 4th edition in 1922. In 1918, he introduced the notion of gauge, and gave the first example of what is now known as a gauge theory. Weyl's gauge theory was an unsuccessful attempt to model the electromagnetic field and the gravitational field as geometrical properties of spacetime. The Weyl tensor in Riemannian geometry is of major importance in understanding the nature of conformal geometry. In 1929, Weyl introduced the concept of the vierbein into general relativity.[2]

His overall approach in physics was based on the phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl, specifically Husserl's 1913 Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie (Ideas of a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction). Apparently this was Weyl's way of dealing with Einstein's controversial dependence on the phenomenological physics of Ernst Mach.[citation needed]

Husserl had reacted strongly to Gottlob Frege's criticism of his first work on the philosophy of arithmetic and was investigating the sense of mathematical and other structures, which Frege had distinguished from empirical reference. Hence there is good reason for viewing gauge theory as it developed from Weyl's ideas as a formalism of physical measurement and not a theory of anything physical,...

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