The Pauli Effect

Paul Halpern
5 min readJan 13, 2020

How Disaster Accompanied a Quantum Physicist Wherever He Went

Wolfgang Pauli. Photograph by Francis Simon, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Simon Collection

To the world, Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli was an esteemed theoretical physicist, a Nobel laureate. To the depth psychology community associated with Carl G. Jung, his extraordinary, vivid dreams, packed with symbolism (according to Jung), and anonymously conveyed to preserve patient privacy, were widely discussed. (Once Pauli and Jung published a book together, the thin cloak of anonymity dropped away.). Finally, to the circle of physicists surrounding Pauli, he was admired for his brilliance, feared for his scathing criticisms, and mocked for the “Pauli Effect:” a propensity for disaster striking whenever he was in the vicinity of a laboratory, or other structure.

Pauli delivering a lecture, with typical humor

If Wolfgang Pauli set foot in an experimental physics laboratory, the legend went, sheer mayhem would result. Beakers would crack, bunsen burners fail to ignite, oscilloscopes would cease to function, and expensive equipment would catch on fire. Collecting data would be useless, except perhaps calculating the total damage for an insurance report. Thus the Pauli Effect, succinctly stated, is that Pauli and labs were an explosive mix. No wonder researcher Otto Stern decided to bar Pauli from passing through the doors of his laboratory.

Physicist Otto Stern, of the Stern-Gerlach experiment, reportedly batted Pauli from his lab

Theorist George Gamow, on the other hand, insisted that the Pauli Effect was proof of his high standing in the field of theoretical physics — like an opera singer breaking glass with her voice, brilliant theoreticians seemed to have a propensity for shattering delicate lab apparatus.

Lakeland Ledger — May 26, 1998

But even if Pauli didn’t step foot inside a lab, as long as he was in its vicinity its researchers could not rest easy. The Pauli Effect appeared to work through walls and across considerable distances. For instance, one time the train Pauli was riding in was briefly passing…

Paul Halpern

Physicist and science writer. Author of Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect

Recommended from Medium


See more recommendations