Hans Thirring

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Hans Thirring (born March 23, 1888 in Vienna ; † March 22, 1976 ibid) was an Austrian physicist and politician (SPÖ).


Thirring was born the son of a middle school teacher in Vienna, his ancestors immigrated from Thuringia during the Thirty Years War , which is where the name Thirring comes from.

Hans Thirring studied mathematics and physics (and physical exercises) at the University of Vienna until 1910 . One of his fellow students was Erwin Schrödinger . Thirring became an assistant at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Vienna in 1911 where he Friedrich Hasenöhrl with the work over several thermodynamic relations in the area of the critical and the triple doctorate . In 1915 he completed his habilitation there, became associate professor in 1921, professor in 1927 and was director of the institute until 1938.

He invented a method for sound film production and playback that worked with the help of selenium cells - Thirring's selenium cells  . In 1929 he founded the Selenophon Licht- und Tonbildgesellschaft , together with the general director of RAVAG , Oskar Czeija , the first Austrian company for the production of sound films.

In 1938, Thirring was given a forced leave of absence by the National Socialists. He was accused of preoccupation with the “Jewish” theory of relativity , his friendship with Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, and his pacifist and thus “defenseless” attitude. As Guido Beck remembers, in the early 1920s he was one of the few professors at the University of Vienna who flatly refused to give lectures if Jewish students were denied access, which was often attempted by right-wing national student associations at the time. After his compulsory leave of absence, he worked as a consultant for various companies such as Elin AG and Siemens in the years that followed.

Reactivated after the war, he was dean of the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Vienna in 1946/47 . In this capacity he took part in the Seelisberg conference as one of the commission leaders . In addition to his scientific work, he was repeatedly committed to peace. Already after the First World War, in which he had to look after technical equipment, he disgustedly declared that, if at all, he would rather have shot at the sadistic sergeant in his own company than at any enemy. In 1957, Hans Thirring co-founded the first Pugwash peace conference , where issues such as the responsibility of scientists and the danger of nuclear armament were discussed.

Thirring did not shy away from the border areas of science such as parapsychology. "Anyone who doesn't have the courage to be laughed at is not a real researcher," he once said. It is less unfortunate when a few scholars are fooled by a swindler for a while than when they carelessly ignored a fascinating, hitherto unknown natural phenomenon for fear of embarrassment. In the early 1920s, at the instigation of the then Vice-President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences , the botanist Richard Wettstein , Thirring began to deal with parapsychological investigations. In 1927 he was elected (founding) president of the Austrian Society for Psychical Research (today Austrian Society for Parapsychology and Frontier Areas of Science ).

Thirring was also politically active in Austria, so he was sent to the Federal Council for the SPÖ from 1957 to 1963 . He continued to campaign strongly for the peace movement and propagated the idea of ​​unilateral disarmament in Austria, known as the Thirring Plan . On December 12, 1963, he caused a tumult in Parliament. His concept for neutral Austria included complete disarmament and the dissolution of the federal army, the borders were to be guarded by UN soldiers. Because of his commitment to peace, Hans Thirring was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize - and completely unjustifiably defamed as an "Eastern Spy".

Thirring died on March 22, 1976, the day before his 88th birthday.

His son Walter Thirring was also a well-known theoretical physicist.

One of his doctoral students is Otto Halpern , whose career in Vienna, despite Thirring's efforts, was thwarted by anti-Semitic intrigues by a clique of right-wing professors. With Halpern he wrote a book on quantum mechanics.


His most important work in 1918 was the prediction of the Lense-Thirring effect of general relativity , named after him and the mathematician Josef Lense , which describes the change in Einstein's space-time in the vicinity of large rotating masses . This effect was experimentally confirmed for the first time in the Gravity Probe B experiment started in 2004 .


Hans Thirring was also an inventor. The invention of a selenium photocell, for example, led to a large number of applications, from light barriers and alarm systems to a sensor that detects oncoming cars and controls the dimming and fading of the headlights. In 1928, before the first American sound film came to Europe, Thirring presented a system for recording and playing back sound film that was very successful in Vienna, but was superseded internationally by the US system because the Americans had larger budgets.

As a passionate skier, he developed the then famous "thirring coat", a kind of sail between arms and legs, which supposedly could almost trigger a feeling of floating when skiing. “The most enjoyable invention I've ever made,” Thirring later wrote. During a shooting trip, the outstretched arms unfold the triangular sail, and “you float down the slope, carried by the wind, light as a feather and safely”. In 1939 he wrote the book Der Schwebelauf, on February 11, 1940 there was a Schwebelauf ski race on the Streif in Kitzbühel. In those years, the 50-year-old athletic physicist was often seen racing down the Hahnenkamm course with his floating cloak and arms outstretched.


  • Nuclear energy yesterday, today and tomorrow. Oldenbourg Publishing House, 1963.
  • The path of theoretical physics from Newton to Schrödinger. Springer publishing house, 1962.
  • Atomic physics in a commonly understood representation. Verlag Deuticke, 1954. 2nd, additional edition.
  • The idea of ​​the theory of relativity. Verlag Springer, 1948. 3., verb. u. supplementary edition.
  • Nuclear war and world politics. Danubia Publishing House, 1948.
  • The hover run. German publishing house for youth and people GmbH, Vienna and Leipzig 1939.
  • With O. Halpern: Basic ideas of the newer quantum theory. Part 1, 2. Springer, 1928, 1929. Results of the exact natural sciences.
  • Mathematical tools of physics. Handbook of Physics, Vol. 3. Berlin 1928.
  • With Josef Lense: About the influence of the self-rotation of the central bodies on the movement of the planets and moons according to Einstein's theory of gravity. In: Physikalische Zeitschrift. Vol. 19, 1918, pp. 156-163.
  • The history of the atomic bomb. In: New Austria. Zeitungs- und Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Vienna 1946.


  • G. Kerber, B. Zimmel (Eds.): Hans Thirring. A life for physics and peace. Böhlau, 1992 (contributions to the history of science and science research, volume 1).


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hans Thirring in the Mathematics Genealogy Project (English) Template: MathGenealogyProject / Maintenance / id used.
  2. About some thermodynamic relationships in the vicinity of the critical and triple point.
  3. Oral Histories. Guido Beck. Interview, 1967.
  4. profile No. 19, year 38, May 7, 2007.
  5. Klaus Taschwer: A physicist as a fighter for peace. In: The Standard . October 10, 2015, accessed October 10, 2015.
  6. Advertising illustration for the thirring coat. At: Europeana .
  7. Vienna City Hall Correspondence, December 10, 1952, sheet 1937.
  8. Vienna City Hall Correspondence, December 13, 1952, sheet 1966.