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    Scholar of the Month - Wilhelm Wien

    *24.02.1864 in Gaffken (East Prussia)  †30.08.1928 in Munich

    1882      Study of mathematics and physics in Göttingen, later Berlin
    1883      Assistant for Helmholtz
    1886      Conferral of a doctorate (Promotion)
    1889      Assistant at the ‘Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt’
    1892      Postdoctoral lecture qualification (Habilitation)
    1896      Privat-Lecturer in Aachen
    1899      Professorship in Gießen
    1900      Professorship at the Julius-Maximilians- University Würzburg
    1911      Nobel Prize in Physics
    1920      Professorship in Munich

    Inconsistent Biography

    When looking at Wiens biography, it is noticeable, how inconspicuous great ability can be. There was nothing in his childhood – apart from a mathematical talent – that hints at Wilhelm Wien being a future Nobel Prize Winner. Even though his parents were expecting Wien, who grow up on the countryside, to take over the farm of his father, they allowed him to study at an University, which was an occupation he really enjoyed – mostly because of the consumption of wine and the participation in a students’ fraternity and lesser because of his classes. It required him a drop out of university, an apprenticeship as a farmer and a second nearly-failing attempt of studying to finally find the right direction in his life, with him being accepted as the assistant of the famous physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.

    Thermal radiation and the Nobel Prize

    It wasn’t without the help of Helmholtz, that Wien was allowed to work at the just recently created ‘Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt’ in Berlin, where he mainly studied the thermal radiation of black bodies. Even now, his parents and colleagues still told Wien to quit his scientific career in order to work on his fathers’ farm. But Wien kept on with his researches and eventually, in 1896 published his displacement law, which was named after him and was the reason for him being awarded with the Novel Prize 15 years later. His scientific career reached peak, but didn’t stop there. Wien was known for being skilled in both, theoretical and practical aspects of his profession and soon made multiple discoveries on the field of cathode rays.

    His years in Würzburg

    After being an assistant in Berlin, Wien soon went on to work at several Universities. First he spent three years at the University of Aachen, before coming to Gießen for a short period of time and finally being appealed by the ‘Alma Julia’ in 1900, where he stayed for 20 years. The procedure of his appeal already indicated how well-established Wien was in the World of Physics because of his discoveries: He was mentioned as the favorite candidate of the faculty to follow the footsteps of the famous Wilhelm C. Röntgen. In the following twodecades Wien established himself as an outstanding scientist, as well as a committed citizen, which made him an enormous benefit for the city of Würzburg.

    Recommended reading:

    Landwehr, Gottfried: Wilhelm Wien (1864-1928), in: Baumgart, Peter (Hrsg.): Lebensbilder bedeutender Würzburger Professoren, Neustadt a. d. Aisch 1995, S. 267-294.
    Wilhelm Wien - 100 Jahre Nobelpreis für Physik, Universitätsarchiv Würzburg.

    Photography Physikalisches Institut 1927
    Institute of Physics at Röntgenring 8 in 1927. Wien was promised that the Institute will be provided with access to the cities’ power supply lines, as well as a one-time financial support of 4000 Mark to cover the costs of laboratory equipment for high-voltage experiments.
    © Universität Würzburg
    Photographie Wilhelm Wien und Kollegen
    Wilhelm Wien together with his colleagues in front of the Institute of Physics at the University of Würzburg.
    © Universität Würzburg
    Berufungsurkunde Dr. Wilhelm Wiens an die Universität Würzburg
    Appointment of Wilhelm Wien to a professorship for physics and a directorship of the Institute of Physics at the Julius-Maximilians- University Würzburg, signed by Prince Luitpold of Bavaria. The position started at the 1. April 1900 and was paid with an annual salary of 6000 Mark (Berufungsurkunde, UWü, ARS 896).
    © Universität Würzburg
    Diagramm Strahlungsspektren nach Planck und Wien
    Wiens’ displacement law shows the distribution of wavelengths of black bodies at certain temperatures. Especially at high temperatures, there was a noticeable variation that was later covered by Planck. Source:, CC-BY-SA 3.0

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