Beginning early in the 20th century spectroscopists attributed the infrared band spectra emitted by diatomic molecules to quantum vibration and rotation modes of the molecules. Because of these relatively simple motions, band spectra offered a convenient .rst phenomenon to which to apply formulations of the new quan-tum mechanics in 1926. In his .rst paper, completed in Cambridge in May 1926, Oppenheimer presented a derivation of the frequencies and relative intensities of the observed spectral lines on the basis of Paul Dirac's new quantum commutator algebra. At the same time Lucy Mensing published a similar derivation utiliz-ing matrix mechanics, as did Edwin Fues utilizing wave mechanics. Analyses of Oppenheimer's paper and of its historical and scienti.c contexts offer insights into the new quantum mechanics and its utilization and reception during this brief period of competing formalisms, and into the characteristic features of Oppenheimer's later style of research and publication.
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