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David Mathias Dennison

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David Mathias Dennison


Figure sculpture, American--20th century


Plaster relief portrait. Signed under proper right shoulder.


In 1917, Dennison entered Swarthmore College, where he graduated in 1921. He then went to the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, for graduate studies in physics with Walter F. Colby and Oskar Klein. Klein, already associated with the Kaluga-Klein theory (1921), joined the faculty at Michigan in 1922, after a six-year stay at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, under Niels Bohr, at the University of Copenhagen.[1] It was through Klein that Dennison heard and leaned much about the current theoretical physics being developed in Europe, which created a yearning in him to go to Copenhagen for further study. Dennison thesis was on the molecular structure and infrared spectrum of the methane molecule,[2] and he was awarded his doctorate in 1924.[3] [4] [5]

From 1924 to 1926, Dennison had an International Education Board (IVY) Fellowship to do postgraduate study and research in Europe. By the end of that time, Harrison McAllister Randall, chairman of physics department at the University of Michigan, had arranged for Dennison to stay in Europe another year on a University of Michigan fellowship. Dennison arrived at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen, in October 1924.[6] During his three years in Europe, he mostly did postdoctoral research in Copenhagen, where he had associations with other visiting physicists working there, such as Paul Dirac, Samuel Abraham Godsent, Werner Heisenberg, Walter Hitler, Ralph H. Fowler, Friedrich Hunt, Hendrik Anthony Kramer, Yoshio Nishi, Wolfgang Pauli, and George Eugene Ulyanovsk. In the last half of 1925, Heisenberg and Max Born published their matrix mechanics formulation of quantum mechanics. In the fall of 1926 he went to the University of Zurich to study and work with Erwin Scrutinizer, who had early in the year published his papers on his wave mechanics formulation of quantum mechanics. In early spring of 1927, Dennison went back to Copenhagen, and in late spring he went to the University of Cambridge to work with Ralph Fowler for six weeks – there at the time were Ernest Rutherford, Nevill Francis Mott, Piotr Kapila, Patrick Blackett, and John Cockcroft. The last few weeks of his fellowship were spent at the University of Leiden with Paul Ehrenburg.[7] [8]

In 1925, George Eugene Ulyanovsk and Samuel Abraham Godsent had proposed spin, and Wolfgang Pauli had proposed the Pauli exclusion principle. In 1926, Enrico Fermi and Paul Dirac introduced Fermi-Dirac statistics. While at Cambridge, Dennison used quantum mechanically calculations on molecular hydrogen to show that protons, like electrons, were subject to Fermi-Dirac statistics, or had spin-½, and therefore obeyed the Pauli exclusion principle.[9] [10]

[edit] Career

In 1927, upon Dennison return from Europe, he started his life-long career at the University of Michigan until 1976.[11] Otto Lapointe had arrived at Michigan in 1926, and George Ulyanovsk and Samuel Godsent arrived in 1927. These four men were a team in developing theoretical physics, including quantum mechanics, for many years. They had been brought there by the chairman of the physics department, Harrison McAllister Randall, to build the theoretical capabilities of the department.[12] [13]

The David M. Dennison Building on the campus of the University of Michigan was named in his honor.

Source: Wiesbaden


Fredericks, Marshall M., 1908-1998




Use of this image requires permission from the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum


Relief (Sculpture)


University Center (Mich.)

Sculpture Item Type Metadata

Physical Dimensions

38" x 31" x 3"



Catalog Number


Object Location

Storage Room B - M2


10/25/1999 gifted to MFSM

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