Johannes Stark might be regarded as the "forgotten Nobel Laureate," because he actively sympathized with the National Socialists and profited from their rise to power. After World War II, his scientific achievements were overshadowed by his political past, for which he rightfully had to take responsibility in court. Nevertheless, Stark is a part of the history of the Nobel Laureates of the University of Würzburg. On the other hand, it is also noteworthy that Max von Laue, another Laureate who did research at Würzburg and aided endangered colleagues during those hard times, testified against him during his trial.
On April 15, 1874, Johannes Stark is born in Schickenhof near Weiden. From 1892 to 1897, he studies Physics with Eugen Lommel in Munich and completes his doctoral degree with a dissertation on soot. From 1897 to 1899, he works as Lommel's assistant at the Physical Institute. In 1900, Stark habilitates at the University of Göttingen, continuing there as a Private Lecturer and as Eduard Riske's assistant until 1906, when he takes on a position as Assistant Professor of Physics at the Technical College in Hanover. In 1909, Stark moves on to Aachen and, in 1917, to the University of Greifswald.
In 1919, Johannes Stark is awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, for "the discovery of the Doppler Effect with channel radiation".
In 1920, Stark comes to Würzburg, succeeding to the professorship of Wilhelm Wien. In 1922, he leaves due to personal differences. After Hitler has seized power, Stark is President of the Physical and Technological Reichsanstalt in Berlin from 1933 to 1939.
For his anti-Semitic publications and his membership in the National Socialist Party, he is put on trial after the end of the War. Von Laue, Heisenberg, and Sommerfeld testify against him. On September 20, 1947, Stark is classified as a chief culprit, and the court sentences him to four years in a labor camp. Later, the verdict is reversed.
Johannes Stark dies on June 21, 1957, in Traunstein.
In 1905, the year Einstein published on his Special Theory of Relativity, Stark was able to demonstrate experimentally that one effect of the Theory of Relativity could be proven. The motion of a light source has an influence on the emitted frequency. The acoustic Doppler Effect was detectable on the atomic level.
In 1896, Peter Zeemann had found that spectral lines under the influence of a powerful magnetic field split up into three individual lines. What would happen with a powerful electric field? Stark mastered the experimental difficulties and found quite analogous effects.
Working and Living in Würzburg
In 1920, Wilhelm Wien was appointed Röntgen's successor at Munich, and Stark could take over his position at the University of Würzburg. Stark was a difficult and power-hungry personality. It did not take long for his behavior to give rise to annoyance and anger, and there was a great deal of controversy in the faculty. His habilitation thesis did not meet standard requirements, and Stark chose to ignore his lecturing responsibilities. After a mere two years, he left the faculty and returned home. Due to the Nobel Prize, he had become financially independent.