German has some wonderful words, and this – says my granddaughter – is one of her husband’s favourites. He – my grandson-in-law – does clever things with particle accelerators, so knows a lot about quantum physics, which to me is wizardry.

Schrödinger’s cat would know about Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum.

It may look long but actually it’s an elegant, simple term in German that turns into a clumsy, awkward phrase in English. Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeit is probability distribution, the probability of finding a particle somewhere. Add “raum” at the end and it becomes the area or space where there is the probability of finding that particle.

No wonder German speakers are good at quantum physics. You need a word for a concept, not a paragraph, and the German language is great for these kinds of things. It’s no coincidence that Einstein, Schrodinger and Max Planck all spoke and thought in German.

My unscientific mind has been boggling at physics since I was twelve. Perhaps, if I had learnt German first, I might have unravelled some of the mysteries that caused me to fail my O-level science exam.

But back to Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum. Like many German words, it’s a compound of several other words.

Aufenthalt” means a stay or sojourn, being in a place for a while – a residence permit is an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (“permission to stay”). It’s related to the verb “sich aufhalten”, literally “to hold oneself up” but which actually means to stay a while, reside, or that beautiful antiquated word “abide”.

Raum” is space (including outer space), room, area, region – depending on the context.  An Aufenthaltsraum is a common room, lounge, dayroom – a place to sit and do nothing much, and available to anyone who cares to spend time there. A pleasant, sociable place.

Wahrscheinlichkeit” is literally “true-seeming-ness” or, more mundanely, probability.

Can you see what my imagination pictures?

That elusive little particle playing hide-amd-seek with the physicists, making its quantum leaps and able to be in more than one place at a time, hops around in its own dimensions where it has comfortably furnished rooms to sit and daydream for a while before its ADHD kicks in and it decides it needs a change of scenery. No wonder they can’t pin it down; it has more rooms than Buckingham Palace to wander about in.

Aha, but scientists know about probability. Where is it most likely to be? The answer is simple: in the most comfortably appointed room with the best view. And that, if I were an electron, is where my Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum would be – with Schrödinger’s cat purring on my lap.

PS I’m not sure what the picture is – something to do with quantum theory and  hydrogen, that Wikipedia found for me. Must ask my grandson-in-law. Isn’t science beautiful? 

10 thoughts on “Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum

  1. I am feeling quite honored to get a post related to me. I have to say your description of Aufenthaltswharscheinlichkeitsraum is very good. According to my chemistry teacher the word is the same in English but so far no English speaking scientist knew what I was talking about so there seemed to be some misinformation.
    But it is interesting indeed. Until the end of the WW2 German was the language you used as a scientist. After that it changed to english with some loss of word creationism this followed to the point that the newer discoveries about special states are often called after the person who discovered or described it first.
    There are quite some scientist all over the world who want to go back to German. Especially the chemistry ones. It is much easier to describe a new material with the German language. But I think that english is to big an international language nowadays that it will be almost impossible to go back to German.
    Actually my German comes in handy sometimes at work as an inofficial translator for some old papers written by scientist before the WW2.

    About the picture I have to admit I have no clear idea what it is without further information.

    p.s. Aufenthaltswharscheinlichkeitsraum is a very nice word for Hangman…

    • Thank you, darling! Glad I have grasped something scientific after all! And it’s quite true that when I was at school, the scientists had to study something called “Scientific German”. I think my teachers got it the wrong way round – they should have begun with quantum theory and German instead of magnetism and electricity!

    • The picture is entitled QT_Eigenzustaende_Wasserstoff – Quantum theory – particular states of hydrogen? I haven’t found an official translation for Eigenzustände.

  2. A few days ago, I cam across with the lovely word “Normprüfkörper”. A Normprüfkörper is a dummy used for testing the design and shape of new models of loos.
    Would certainly be a nice profession, wouldn’t it? 😉

  3. I have German, I certainly do know the single words:
    But I’m sorry with the three words put together I am totally lost. The three words together make no sense to me at all. This may be because this sort of word would only mean anything in connection with physics. I have a hard time understanding. anything to do with physics. I find some things I understand better when they are explained in English!

    What about: Superrcalifragilisticespealladocious? To my knowledge you wouldn’t find a similar word in German!

    • Maybe we should find a nice tune to sing “Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum” to! No, I don’t claim to understand quantum theory, but I like the image of the electron like a hyperactive child hopping around from one dimension to another and even being in several places at once, and the scientists madly chasing it – which Aufenthaltsraum is it likely to be in?

      • Die “Wahrscheinlichkeit” is that I cannot follow there at all! Indeed, a bit of singing might help the understanding. So what do we have to do? Chase the image of the electron and it can be in several places at once? Well, I think I better leave it to the scientists to find the “Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum”.
        At least I know now I’ll never understand quantum theory.
        Dear Cat, I very much liked reading how you explained all the German words in English. After reading the English explanations I seem to understand this monstrous German word a lot better. I seem to like English better than German. Which is really odd! I had the same experience with the wording of the Catholic Mass. I seem to have difficulty following it in German.

      • My granddaughters feel the same way – they find lots of things much easier to express in English than in their native German (see the latest post at Chaperon tacheté)

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