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Pauli's Exclusion Principle

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the key principles in quantum mechanics, the Pauli Exclusion Principle, and the life and ideas of Wolfgang Pauli who proposed it.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), whose Exclusion Principle is one of the key ideas in quantum mechanics. A brilliant physicist, at 21 Pauli wrote a review of Einstein's theory of general relativity and that review is still a standard work of reference today. The Pauli Exclusion Principle proposes that no two electrons in an atom can be at the same time in the same state or configuration, and it helps explain a wide range of phenomena such as the electron shell structure of atoms. Pauli went on to postulate the existence of the neutrino, which was confirmed in his lifetime. Following further development of his exclusion principle, Pauli was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945 for his 'decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature'. He also had a long correspondence with Jung, and a reputation for accidentally breaking experimental equipment which was dubbed The Pauli Effect.


Frank Close
Fellow Emeritus at Exeter College, University of Oxford

Michela Massimi
Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh


Graham Farmelo
Bye-Fellow of Churchill College, University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

48 minutes

Last on

Thu 6 Apr 2017 21:30


Frank Close at the University of Oxford

Michela Massimi at the University of Edinburgh

Graham Farmelo at the University of Cambridge

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, 1900-1958: Biographical Memoirs, edited by Rudolf Peierls - Royal Society

‘Wolfgang Pauli, Carl Jung, and the Acausal Connecting Principle: A Case Study in Transdisciplinarity’ by Charlene P. E. Burns – Metanexus

This Month in Physics History: January 1925: Wolfgang Pauli announces the exclusion principle – American Physical Society

Looking at Physics History: July 21, 2000: Fermilab announces first direct evidence for tau neutrino - American Physical Society

Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines: Discovery of the neutrino - American Physical Society

‘What is a neutrino?’ by Aksel L. Hallin – Scientific American

Wolfgang Pauli biography –

‘Why two geniuses delved into the occult’ by Amanda Gefter – New Scientist

Pauli Exclusion Principle – Wikipedia



Frank Close, Neutrino (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Frank Close, The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Charles P. Enz, No Time to be Brief: A Scientific Biography of Wolfgang Pauli (Oxford University Press, 2002)

M. Fierz and V. F. Weisskopf (eds.), Theoretical Physics in the Twentieth Century: A Memorial Volume to Wolfgang Pauli (Interscience Publishers, 1960), especially ‘The Turning Point’ by R. Kronig

R. Kronig and V. F. Weisskopf (eds.), Collected Scientific Papers by Wolfgang Pauli, Vols. I–II (Wiley Interscience, 1964)

O. Lindberg, A. E. Lindh and H. Alfeven, Les Prix Nobel en 1946 (Norstedt & Söner), especially ‘Exclusion Principle and Quantum Mechanics’ by Wolfgang Pauli

Michela Massimi, Pauli’s Exclusion Principle: The Origin and Validation of a Scientific Principle (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

C. A. Meier, Atom and Archetype (Princeton University Press, 2000)

Arthur I. Miller, Deciphering the Cosmic Number (WW Norton, 2009)

Arthur I. Miller, 137: Jung, Pauli and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession (W. Norton, 2010)

Abraham Pais, The Genius of Science (Princeton University Press, 2000)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Frank Close
Interviewed Guest Michela Massimi
Interviewed Guest Graham Farmelo
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 6 Apr 2017 09:00
  • Thu 6 Apr 2017 21:30

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