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Michel Janssen

On the Verge of Umdeutung in Minnesota: Van Vleck and the Correspondence Principle. Part One
Anthony Duncan and Michel Janssen, Archive for History of Exact Sciences 61 (2007): 553–624

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In October 1924, The Physical Review, a relatively minor journal at the time, published a remarkable two-part paper by John H. Van Vleck, working in virtual isolation at the University of Minnesota. Using Bohr’s correspondence principle and Einstein’s quantum theory of radiation along with advanced techniques from classical mechanics, Van Vleck showed that quantum formulae for emission, absorption, and dispersion of radiation merge with their classical counterparts in the limit of high quantum numbers. For modern readers Van Vleck’s paper is much easier to follow than the famous paper by Kramers and Heisenberg on dispersion theory, which covers similar terrain and is widely credited to have led directly to Heisenberg’s Umdeutung paper. This makes Van Vleck’s paper extremely valuable for the reconstruction of the genesis of matrix mechanics. It also makes it tempting to ask why Van Vleck did not take the next step and develop matrix mechanics himself.