Walther Gerlach was a prominent German physicist, born on August 1, 1889, in Biebrich, Germany. He is best known for his work on quantum theory, particularly the Stern–Gerlach experiment, which he conducted with Otto Stern in 1922. This pivotal experiment demonstrated the quantized nature of atomic magnetic moments and provided crucial empirical evidence supporting the quantum theory. Gerlach’s findings significantly advanced the understanding of quantum mechanics, specifically the concept of electron spin, which has foundational implications in the field of quantum physics.
Gerlach’s career was marked by his roles in both academia and research. After obtaining his doctorate in 1912, he served in World War I and then continued his academic pursuits, eventually becoming a professor at the University of Frankfurt in 1921. He moved to the University of Tübingen in 1925 and later to the University of Munich in 1929, where he succeeded Wilhelm Wien. Gerlach made Munich a center of physics research, particularly in the study of atomic and nuclear physics. His own research interests also included thermal radiation, metal physics, and the magnetic and electrical properties of matter.
During World War II, Gerlach played a controversial role in Nazi Germany’s nuclear weapon project, known as the Uranium Club, where he was appointed as the project’s scientific director. After the war, he was detained during Operation Alsos and sent to England under Operation Epsilon, where he was held with other German scientists who had been involved in the nuclear project. Upon his return to Germany, Gerlach resumed his academic career, contributing to the rebuilding of scientific research in the country. He later became the President of the Fraunhofer Society and played a significant role in establishing the European Space Research Organization. Gerlach’s legacy in physics is enduring, with his early work on quantum mechanics remaining a cornerstone of the discipline. He passed away on August 10, 1979, leaving behind a legacy that continues to influence the scientific community.
CIA Documents Release About Walther Gerlach’s Work Diaries [349 Pages, 96MB]
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