Person: Wiener (3), Ludwig Christian
Wilhelm Wien was a German physicist who won the Nobel prize for discovering the proton.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- In later life, Wilhelm Wien was known as 'Willy' to his friends and colleagues.
- In the same year that Carl and Caroline Wien moved to Drachstein, Wilhelm's cousin Max Carl Wien was born on Christmas day in Königsberg.
- Max Carl Wien also became a physicist and worked on high-frequency waves and the behaviour of electrolytes at high electric field strengths.
- Wilhelm Wien attended the Gymnasium in Rastenburg beginning in 1875 but showed little enthusiasm for academic work.
- His mathematics tutor Switalski was outstanding and Wien made good progress.
- Arnold Sommerfeld and Hermann Minkowski were both pupils at this Gymnasium at the time and, perhaps for the first time in his life, Wien made good academic progress.
- Things certainly changed for Wien in the winter of 1883-84 when he began studying in the laboratory of Hermann von Helmholtz.
- Most German students of this period would move between different universities and Wien followed this tradition by spending the summer semester of 1884 at the University of Heidelberg.
- After this semester at Heidelberg, Wien returned to study with Helmholtz in Berlin and was given the topic of 'diffraction of light when it strikes a grating' as the subject for his doctoral dissertation.
- Wien was awarded his doctorate from Berlin in 1886 but his performance is the final examination was poor and he was given a very mediocre grade.
- Poor Wien was in a difficult position, unsure of his abilities in physics, but always very sure of his lack of skill for taking over running the farm.
- However, fate intervened and stopped Wien spending the rest of his life as an unhappy incompetent farmer.
- This was in the form of a major drought in 1890 which led to Wien's parents, now quite old and in poor health, selling their farm.
- By the spring of 1890 Wien was working as Helmholtz's assistant at the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
- In 1890 Bismarck was dismissed as Emperor and Wien really felt that a new era had opened up for him.
- His guiding idea was that the individual parts of energy have a traceable motion; his teacher Helmholtz did not like the idea, and Wien now tried it out on Hertz.
- Heinrich Hertz was, like Helmholtz, not particularly enthusiastic about Wien's ideas but his work on the localisation of energy led to his habilitation in Berlin in 1892.
- However, returning to 1890, Wien reported on the current state of the theory of energy to the physics section of the German Association.
- The localisation of energy was not the only topic that Wien worked on in his first years at the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt.
- In 1893 Wien stated his displacement law of blackbody radiation spectra at different temperatures.
- Next Wien derived a distribution law of radiation which he published in June 1896.
- Max Planck, who was a colleague of Wien's when he was carrying out this work, later, in 1900, based quantum theory on the fact that Wien's law, while valid at high frequencies, broke down completely at low frequencies.
- Planck suggested a more complicated version of Wien's law in 1900.
- Wien received the 1911 Nobel Prize for his work on heat radiation.
- In 1892 Wien had been promoted to a lecturer in Berlin and he was happy working at the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt but in 1894 Helmholtz died and Friedrich Kohlrausch was appointed to succeed him.
- This certainly did not fit in with Wien's approach determined by his extremely independent nature.
- Wien had been appointed to fill the chair previously held by Philipp Eduard Anton Lenard who had left Aachen to take up the chair at Heidelberg.
- Lenard had been undertaking research on cathode rays in Aachen and the equipment he had been using proved extremely useful to Wien who had begun to undertake research into cathode rays while in Berlin.
- While studying streams of ionized gas in 1898, Wien identified a positive particle equal in mass to the hydrogen atom.
- Wien invented the first mass-spectrograph and, with this work, laid the foundation of mass spectroscopy.
- However, there were difficulties in reconciling the results from Wien's mass-spectrograph with the theories of atoms and electrons.
- J J Thomson refined Wien's apparatus and conducted further experiments in 1913 then, after work by E Rutherford in 1919, Wien's particle was accepted and named the proton.
- After three years in Aachen, Wien moved to the University of Giessen in 1899 where he was appointed as a full professor.
- The chair had become vacant due to Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen moving to a chair at Munich.
- Wien was now an internationally acclaimed physicist and received many invitations to lecture throughout the world.
- At Würzburg, Wien allowed himself the time to indulge in other interests besides physics.
- In 1914 Wien published Ziele und Methoden der theoetische Physik Ⓣ(Aims and methods of theoretical physics).
- It failed, but the struggle against the Bolsheviks provided a situation which left Wien deeply unhappy.
- During the 1920s there were different problems which resulted in Wien's continuing sadness about his native land.
- After 20 years in Würzburg, Wien accepted an offer of a chair from the University of Munich in 1920.
- Between 1905 and 1918 Wien and Planck edited the Annalen der Physik.
- Wien continued as an editor of Annalen der Physik until his death.
- Canal rays were produced by cathode ray tubes and, as we explained above, were shown by Wien to consist of positively charged particles with the same mass as hydrogen atoms.
Born 13 January 1864, Gaffken, near Fischhausen, East Prussia (now Primorsk Kaliningrad Oblast Russia). Died 30 August 1928, Munich, Germany.
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Tags relevant for this person:
Origin Russia, Prize Nobel, Physics
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive