Birthday: August 10, 1913
Died At Age: 80
Sun Sign: Leo
Born in: Lorenzkirch, Saxony, German Empire
Famous as: Physicist
Spouse/Ex-: Dr. Doris Walch, Liselotte
mother: Elisabeth Paul
Died on: December 7, 1993
place of death: Bonn
education: Technical University of Berlin, University of Göttingen, Technische Universität München
awards: Nobel Prize in physics (1989)
Dirac Medal (1992)
Wolfgang Paul was a German physicist who shared one-half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1989 with the German-born American physicist Hans G. Dehmelt. The other half of the prize was awarded to the American physicist Norman F. Ramsey. Paul received his share of the prize for his development of the Paul trap—an electromagnetic device that captures ions (electrically charged atoms) and holds them long enough for their properties to be accurately measured. His father was a professor of pharmaceutic chemistry, so Paul became familiar with the life of a scientist in a chemical laboratory quite early. Both his parents were in favor of humanistic education and Paul’s interest in science was awakened very early. After finishing the gymnasium in Munich with 9 years of Latin and 6 years of ancient Greek, history and philosophy, he decided to become a physicist. All through his student years he had very inspiring teachers who had a strong influence on his scientific thinking. His doctoral thesis was interrupted as the World War II was beginning and he was incorporated into the air force. Along with being a professor at the Bonn University for a long period he served as a member of many scientific committees in Germany and abroad.
Childhood & Early Life
Wolfgang Paul was born on August 10, 1913 in Lorenzkirch, a small village in Saxony, German Empire, as the fourth child of Theodor and Elisabeth Paul. His parents had six children.
Paul grew up in Munich where his father was a professor of pharmaceutic chemistry at the university. He became familiar with the life of a scientist in a chemical laboratory quite early. His father passed away when Paul was still a schoolboy.
After finishing the gymnasium in Munich with 9 years of Latin and 6 years of ancient Greek, history and philosophy, he decided to become a physicist.
Arnold Sommerfeld, his father’s colleague at the university, advised him to begin with an apprenticeship in precision mechanics.
Later, in the fall 1932, he commenced his studies at the Technische Hochschule München.
After his first examination in 1934 he turned to the Technische Hochschule in Berlin, where he became a student of Hans Kopfermann who showed great interest in Paul’s studies.
At the same institution, he was taught by theorist Richard Becker, and both Hans Kopfermann and Richard Becker had a strong influence on Paul’s scientific thinking.
Not only did the two men influence Paul’s approach to science but also had a deep influence on his political attitude during the time of the World War. This later led to Paul signing the declaration of the ‘Gottinger Eighteen’ in 1957, a declaration of 18 leading nuclear scientists of West Germany against arming the West German army with tactical nuclear weapons.
In 1937 after his diploma exam he followed Kopfermann to the University of Kiel where he had just been appointed Professor Ordinarius.
For his doctoral thesis he chose the determination of the nuclear moments of Beryllium from the hyperfine spectrum. He developed an atomic beam light source to minimize the Doppler Effect. But just before he could finish the thesis he was drawn in to the air force a few days before the war started. Fortunately, a few months later he got a leave of absence to finish his thesis and to take his doctoral exam at the TH Berlin. In 1940 he was exempted from military service.
Again he joined the group around Kopfermann which 2 years later moved to Gottingen. There in 1944 he became Privatdozent, an academic title that denotes a person’s ability to teach independently at university level, at the university.
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In his days as professor at the university he worked in mass spectrometry and isotope separation together with W. Walcher. When they heard of the development of the betatron by D. Kerst in the United States and also of a similar development by Gund at Siemens Company, Kopfermann saw immediately that scattering experiments with high energy electrons would enable the study of the charge structure of nuclei. He convinced Paul to turn to this new and very promising field of physics and Paul soon participated in the first test measurements at the Siemens laboratory. After the war they succeeded in getting this accelerator to Gottingen.
But due to the restriction in physics research imposed by the military government he turned for a few years his interest to radiobiology and cancer therapy by electrons in collaboration with his colleague G. Schubert from the medical faculty.
Besides, they performed some scattering experiments and studied first the electric disintegration of the deuteron, and for the first time they measured the Lamb shift in the He-spectrum with optical methods.
In 1952 he was appointed Professor at the University of Bonn and Director of the Physics Institute. Here he started new activities: molecular beam physics, mass spectrometry and high energy electron physics with his students.
The quadrupole mass spectrometer and the ion trap were conceived and studied in many respects by research students. And with the generous support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Paul and his colleagues built a 500 MeV electron synchrotron, the first in Europe working according to the new principle of strong focusing. It was followed in 1965 by a synchroton for 2500 MeV.
Awards & Achievements
Paul won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1989 for his development of the Paul trap—an electromagnetic device that captures ions (electrically charged atoms) and holds them long enough for their properties to be accurately measured.
He served as an advisor at CERN due to his experience in accelerator physics.
He served as a member and later chairman of the Scientific Policy Committee. He also served the scientific delegate of Germany in the CERN-Council for many years.
For a short period he was chairman of ECFA, the European Committee for Future Accelerators.
Personal Life & Legacy
Paul was married to Liselotte and they had four children, two daughters and two sons. Both his sons became physicists and participated in research with Paul.
After the death of his first wife, Paul married Dr. Doris Walch, teaching medieval literature at the University of Bonn.
Paul died on 7 December 1993 at the age of 80 in Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.