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James Franck
Born (1882-08-26)26 August 1882
Hamburg, German Empire
Died 21 May 1964(1964-05-21) (aged 81)
Göttingen, West Germany
Nationality German
Alma mater University of Heidelberg
University of Berlin
Known for Franck–Condon principle
Franck–Hertz experiment
Religion Jewish agnostic, Pantheist.[1]

James Franck (26 August 1882 – 21 May 1964) was a German physicist and Nobel laureate.[2]


Franck was Jewish; his parents were Jacob Franck and Rebecca Nachum Drucker. He completed his Ph.D. in 1906 and received his venia legendi, or Habilitation, for physics in 1911, both at the University of Berlin, where he lectured and taught until 1918, having reached the position of extraordinarius professor. Franck served as a volunteer in the German Army during World War I. He was seriously injured in 1917 in a gas attack and he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. Franck became the Head of the Physics Division of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft for Physical Chemistry. In 1920, Franck became ordinarius professor of experimental physics and Director of the Second Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Göttingen. While there he worked on quantum physics with Max Born, who was Director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics.

In 1925, Franck received the Nobel Prize in Physics, mostly for his work in 1912–1914, which included the Franck–Hertz experiment, an important confirmation of the Bohr model of the atom.

James Franck, Chicago 1952

In 1933, after the Nazis came to power, Franck, being a Jew, decided to leave his post in Germany and continued his research in the United States, first at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then, after a year in Denmark, in Chicago. It was there that he became involved in the Manhattan Project during World War II; he was Director of the Chemistry Division of the Metallurgical Laboratory[3] at the University of Chicago. He was also the chairman of the Committee on Political and Social Problems regarding the atomic bomb; the committee consisted of himself and other scientists at the Met Lab, including Donald J. Hughes, J. J. Nickson, Eugene Rabinowitch, Glenn T. Seaborg, J. C. Stearns and Leó Szilárd. The committee is best known for the compilation of the Franck Report, finished on 11 June 1945, which recommended not to use the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities, based on the problems resulting from such a military application.

When Nazi Germany invaded Denmark in World War II, the Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes of Max von Laue and James Franck in aqua regia to prevent the Nazis from stealing them. He placed the resulting solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. After the war, he returned to find the solution undisturbed and precipitated the gold out of the acid. The Nobel Society then recast the Nobel Prizes using the original gold.[4]

In 1946 Franck married Hertha Sponer, his former assistant in Göttingen. He died suddenly in 1964 while visiting Göttingen.[5]

Honours and awards[]

  • 1917: Iron Cross, 1st class
  • 1925: Nobel Prize in Physics The award was shared with Gustav Ludwig Hertz, and it was for their discovery of the laws governing the impact of electrons on atoms
  • 1951: Max Planck Medal of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft
  • 1953: Honorary citizen of Göttingen
  • 1955: Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – For his work on photosynthesis
  • 1964: Elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London, for his contribution to the understanding of exchanges of energy in electron collisions, to the interpretation of molecular spectra, and to problems of photosynthesis

See also[]

  • Franck–Condon principle
  • Franck–Hertz experiment


  1. David Nachmansohn (1979). German-Jewish pioneers in science, 1900-1933: highlights in atomic physics, chemistry, and biochemistry. Springer-Verlag. p. 62. ISBN 9780387904023. "James Franck was born in Hamburg, the son of a Jewish banker. ...As he said, science was his God and nature his religion. He did not insist that his daughters attend religious instruction classes (Religionsunterricht) in school. But he was very proud of his Jewish heritage..." 
  2. "Obituary: James Franck". July 1964. pp. 80. Digital object identifier:10.1063/1.3051727. 
  3. The Metallurgical Laboratory – known as the Met Lab – was one of four main sites working on the Manhattan Project. The other three were Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Hanford Site.
  4. "Adventures in radioisotope research", George Hevesy
  5. See this site at Duke University.

Further reading[]

External links[]

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