Wilhelm H. Westphal (physicist)

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Wilhelm H. Westphal, 1935 in Stuttgart

Wilhelm Heinrich Westphal (born March 3, 1882 in Hamburg , † June 5, 1978 in Berlin ) was a German physicist . He was the author of university books and popular science publications as well as the editor of scientific works.

Wilhelm Westphal was the son of a Hamburg merchant family. He studied physics in Bonn, Munich and Berlin. He then took a position as an assistant at the Physics Institute of the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin . His classmates included James Franck and Robert Wichard Pohl (whom he knew from school in Hamburg) and Gustav Hertz , also from Hamburg. In 1908 he received his doctorate with Arthur Wehnelt with an experimental thesis on electron beams , his habilitation followed in 1913. He was assistant to Heinrich Rubens , whom he regarded as his actual teacher.

From 1915 to 1918 he was deployed together with many other scientists (including Otto Hahn , James Franck and Gustav Hertz) in a poison gas special command (the Pioneer Regiment 35 ) led by Fritz Haber during World War I. His task was to follow the wind direction during poison gas attacks on the front and to warn his own troops in case of danger. During the last two years of the First World War he was an adjutant at the Heeresgasschule in Berlin.

After the First World War he received a professorship at the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin. From 1922 on, he was also a consultant in the Prussian Ministry of Culture for two years, and in this position he was the first German scientist to officially visit the Soviet Union. In this function (which was paid for through a position at the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam, where he was on leave), he was also on the board of trustees of the Einstein Tower. From 1928 he was a professor at the Technical University of Berlin (later: Technical University of Berlin ). The Ministry of Culture decided to meet the needs of physicists by expanding teaching at the technical universities. The head of the newly founded Physics Institute was Gustav Hertz and Richard Becker taught theory, while Westphal led and rebuilt the beginner's internship. He stayed at the TU Berlin until his retirement in 1955. The Technical University made him an honorary senator in 1964.


He is buried in the forest cemetery in Zehlendorf .

From 1928 Westphal set up a physical internship at the Technical University, which became a model for other universities. His textbook Physics , published in 1928, was a standard work in Germany for a long time and reached its 26th edition in 1970. His physics internship was also widespread . He was editor of five volumes of the handbook of physics , the physical dictionary and the book series Die Wissenschaft . Westphal was active in presenting physics for laypeople with brochures, newspaper articles and lectures, including his book, Your Daily Physics, which has been translated into several languages .

In addition to Franck, he was also friends with Max von Laue , who accepted a professorship in Berlin in 1918.


Wilhelm Westphal was married to Olga Westphal, née Meyer-Delius (1889–1978). One son was the chemist and immunologist Otto Westphal (1913-2004).


  • Physics. Springer 1928. 26th edition 1970.
  • Physics of Everyday Life. Societäts-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1940 (= Frankfurter Bücher. Research and Life. Volume 5). Later than your daily physics. Berlin 1949, Ullstein 1978.
  • Physics internship. Vieweg 1938. 13th edition 1983.
  • The theory of relativity. Greifen, Rudolstadt 1947. Franckh, Stuttgart 1955.
  • Small textbook of physics without the application of higher mathematics. Springer 1948. 5th edition 1963.
  • Your daily Physics Verlag des Druckhaus Tempelhof, Berlin 1949, 2nd edition 1950
  • The basics of the physical conceptual system. Vieweg 1965. 2nd edition 1971.
  • Fun with physics. London 1964.

Web links

Commons : Wilhelm H. Westphal  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. In his doctoral thesis he also used the Wehnelt cylinder and, according to Westphal's recollections, it was important because it later contributed to averting a million-dollar lawsuit by an American company in a patent dispute. Westphal, 68 years as a physicist in Berlin , Physikalische Blätter June 1972