- Heisenberg’s paper establishing quantum mechanics has puzzled physicists and historians. His methods assume that the reader is familiar with Kramers-Heisenberg transition probability calculations. The main new idea, noncommuting matrices, is justified only by a rejection of unobservable quantities. It introduces the non-commutative multiplication of matrices by physical reasoning, based on the correspondence principle, despite the fact that Heisenberg was not then familiar with the mathematical theory of matrices. The path leading to these results has been reconstructed in MacKinnon, 1977, and the detailed calculations are worked out in Aitchison et al.
In Copenhagen, Heisenberg and Hans Kramers collaborated on a paper on dispersion, or the scattering from atoms of radiation whose wavelength is larger than the atoms. They showed that the successful formula Kramers had developed earlier could not be based on Bohr orbits, because the transition frequencies are based on level spacings which are not constant. The frequencies which occur in the Fourier transform of sharp classical orbits, by contrast, are equally spaced. But these results could be explained by a semi-classical Virtual State model: the incoming radiation excites the valence, or outer, electron to a virtual state from which it decays. In a subsequent paper Heisenberg showed that this virtual oscillator model could also explain the polarization of fluorescent radiation.