Alfred Schild (September 7, 1921 – May 24, 1977) was a leading German-American physicist, well known for his contributions to the Golden age of general relativity (1960–1975).



Schild was born in Istanbul, Turkey on September 7, 1921. His parents were German-speaking Viennese Jews,[1] but his early education was in England. Upon the outbreak of World War II Schild was interned as an enemy alien, but later allowed to travel to Canada. In 1944 he earned his B.A. at the University of Toronto, and in 1946 completed his doctorate under the direction of Leopold Infeld. Schild spent the next eleven years at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he helped to develop the first atomic clocks.

As tensors are the language of general relativity, Schild wrote Tensor Calculus with John L. Synge as a textbook.[2] According to a reviewer, "The ideas and concepts are given very concisely and thus a wide range of subjects is considered."[3]

In 1957 he moved to the University of Texas at Austin. In 1962 he became Ashbel Smith Professor and founded the Center for Relativity at University of Texas, Austin.[4] Engelbert Schücking described the recruitment of professors for the Center:

In 1962 Alfred got me an associate professorship in the Austin mathematics department, and in the summer of 1962, while attending Andrzej Trautman’s Relativity conference in Warsaw, Poland, … we persuaded Roger Penrose, Roy Kerr, Ray Sachs, Jürgen Ehlers, Luis Bel and others to flock to the newly created center of gravity in Austin.[5]

A dramatization of the calculation of the Kerr metric by Roy Kerr was written in 2009 by Fulvio Melia.[6] Kerr had invited Schild to his office to calculate angular momentum in a solution to Einstein's field equations. "Alfred was a kind and cheerful man, with a flock of silvery hair."[6]:74 The climax of Cracking the Einstein Code was expressed as follows:

While Schild waited patiently in the armchair, Kerr began calculating at his desk...Kerr put down his pencil and looked up...Schild jumped out of his chair beaming. He appeared to be far more excited than Kerr himself and clearly knew what this meant.[6]:75

In a 1970 seminar at Princeton University, Schild introduced an important construction now known as Schild's Ladder.

Professor Schild died on May 24, 1977, in Downer's Grove, Illinois of a myocardial infarction.[7]


Schild's private papers are archived by the University of Texas.

In popular cultureEdit

The science fiction novel Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan drew heavily on concepts introduced or refined by Schild.


  1. ^ Pedro G. Ferreira «The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity» (p. 114)
  2. ^ Synge, J. L. & Schild, A. (1949). Tensor Calculus. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-1031-8. OCLC 6007241.
  3. ^ John DeCicco (1951 ) Review: J. L. Synge & Alfred Schild Tensor Calculus, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 57(6):500–2 via Project Euclid
  4. ^ Richard A. Matzner & L. C. Shepley (1982) Spacetime and Geometry: The Alfred Smith Lectures, page ix, University of Texas Press
  5. ^ Engelbert Schücking (August 1989) The First Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics, Physics Today pages 46 to 52
  6. ^ a b c Fulvio Melia (2009) Cracking the Einstein Code, University of Chicago Press ISBN 9780226519517
  7. ^ Alfred Schild from Department of Physics, University of Texas at Austin

Further readingEdit

  • Oren, Amanda. "SCHILD, ALFRED". Handbook of Texas On-Line. Retrieved 7 August 2005.
  • Debney, G.C.; Kerr, R. P. & Schild, A. (1969). "Solutions of the Einstein and Einstein-Maxwell Equations". J. Math. Phys. 10 (10): 1842. Bibcode:1969JMP....10.1842D. doi:10.1063/1.1664769.
  • Kerr, R. P. & Schild, A. (1965). "Some algebraically degenerate solutions of Einstein's gravitational field equations". Proc. Symp. Appl. Math. 17: 199.