jump to navigation

Primer: Deutsche Physik August 20, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Primer.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Our inaugural post in the Hump-Day History series is a subject that is a touchstone to those who have studied the history of physics, but that does not feature in the top tier of popular knowledge of the history of science. This is a short-lived but stinging moment in the history of physics in Germany from the 1930s known in English as “Aryan physics” but in German as deutsche Physik, or “German physics”. The reason “Aryan” tends to be used is because “deutsche” had a very ethnic connotation that served to distinguish this style of physics from what the proponents of deutsche Physik considered to be “Jewish” physics, by which they meant relativity and quantum mechanics, the subjects that had over the prior two decades catapulted German physics to a clear position at the forefront of the profession.

Philipp Lenard receives an honorary degree from Heidelberg University

Philipp Lenard receives an honorary degree from Heidelberg University. Credit: AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

Deutsche Physik proponents were generally physicists who sought to benefit from the takeover of the Nazi Party in 1933. They were led by Nobel laureates Philipp Lenard (Nobel, 1905) and Johannes Stark (1919). After the Nazis took power, new civil service laws banned most Jews from government service, which included research posts in universities and important institutions like the Kaiser Wilhelm (now Max Planck) Institutes. By painting the highly abstract and philosophically unintuitive nature of recent physical theory as characteristically Jewish, Lenard et al attempted to tar non-Jewish physicists who had been a part of the new wave (more…)