Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim

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Lothar Nordheim, 1963 at Copenhagen

Lothar[1] Wolfgang Nordheim (November 7, 1899, Munich – October 5, 1985, La Jolla, California) was a German born Jewish American theoretical physicist. Upon his immigration to the United States in 1934 Nordheim served as a Visiting Professor at Purdue University, moving on to a permanent faculty position at Duke University in 1937.


An important contribution, with the British physicist Ralph H. Fowler in 1928, was to establish the correct physical explanation of the physical phenomenon now called field electron emission (FE). They established that electron emission occurred by a form of wave-mechanical tunneling, now called Fowler–Nordheim tunneling, and, with the help of the assumption that electrons in metals obeyed Fermi-Dirac statistics, derived an (approximate) emission equation. Over time, this equation has been developed into a family of approximate equations (offering different degrees of approximation to reality, when describing FE from bulk metals), known as Fowler–Nordheim-type equations.

FN tunneling was the first effect in physics to be firmly identified as due to wave-mechanical tunneling, in the early days of quantum mechanics. The original FN-type equation was one of the first to use Fermi-Dirac statistics to explain an experimental phenomenon involving electrons in metals, and its success greatly helped to establish modern electron band theory.

FE has had many significant practical applications.


  1. ^ His name is sometimes misspelled as Lother.

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