Louis de Broglie and the Reception of Quantum Mechanics in France

By Adrien Vila Valls

Université de Lyon


As the only Frenchman among the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, Louis de Broglie has a unique place among the community of French physicists. With the prestige from the Nobel Prize in 1929, he was during a long time the central character in the French theoretical physics and, due to this role, he was charged with responsibilities for its development. Quantum physics, an essential theoretical frame after its inception, diffused very slowly in France and the theoreticians who include it among their research lines were not numerous before the World War II. The talk aims to assess the role played by Louis de Broglie in that diffusion, both on the institutional and intellectual levels. I will try to argue that while his reserved personality and directions of research did hot help to organize around him a school of theoretical physics in the center of international works in extensions of quantum physics, the weakness of the French theoretical physics before the war can be explained also by other deeper reasons not deriving from these conjunctures. After the World War II the French physics underwent great changes in special with the emergence of new institutions and the appearance of a new generation of physicists more open towards relationships with foreign countries. I will show how the new influential men in the French theoretical physics then created a new institutional setting for quantum mechanics while leaving at its margins Louis de Broglie’s figure.