Wolfgang Gentner

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Wolfgang Gentner (born July 23, 1906 in Frankfurt am Main ; † September 4, 1980 in Heidelberg ) was a German physicist .

Gentner became known primarily for his work on nuclear physics , in particular on the nuclear photo effect and gamma radiation . In addition, there are significant research achievements in biophysics , archaeometry and cosmochemistry . With the potassium-argon method, he developed a technique for determining the age of minerals and meteorites , especially for tektites . Together with Walther Bothe and Heinz Maier-Leibnitz he developed the "Atlas of typical cloud chamber pictures ".


Wolfgang Gentner began studying physics in Erlangen , but soon moved back to his hometown at the University of Frankfurt , where he did his doctorate in 1930 under Friedrich Dessauer on investigations on a Lenard-Coolidge tube . From 1932 to 1935 he worked - as the first German since 1912 - at Marie Curie's Radium Institute at the Sorbonne in Paris . In 1935 he returned to Germany to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg to join Walther Bothe's group.

Since the sources of natural gamma radiation , such as radium , were not energetic enough for the experiments to stimulate resonances in atomic nuclei , the institute developed a plan to build an artificial radiation source with an electrostatic accelerator, fed by a Van de Graaff generator . The generator, which Gentner quickly implemented, and the radiation source proved to be extremely fruitful tools, and extensive data on the core photo effect could be collected shortly after commissioning . The measured cross sections were several orders of magnitude higher than the predictions of Hans Bethe and Georg Placzek (1905–1955).

Gentner completed his habilitation in 1937 on the subject of absorption, scattering and secondary radiation of hard gamma rays at the natural science faculty of the University of Frankfurt. In 1938 the accelerator output of the Van de Graaf generator could be increased to a mega electron volt. The hoped-for financing commitments for the project to build a cyclotron finally came . Gentner sat in 1939 at the University of Berkeley to collect information about the optimal execution of the cyclotron, in contrast to other voices who wanted to build a "German" cyclotron in close cooperation with Siemens . At this time he also came into contact with Robert Oppenheimer .

When war broke Gentner was from Heereswaffenamt the uranium project assigned and his MeV accelerator used as a neutron source. After the conquest of France, Gentner was sent to Paris to put the almost completed cyclotron into operation. This then happened in February 1942 with an output of 7 MeV when accelerating deuterons . After a denunciation from Paris, he was in charge of the further construction of the Heidelberg cyclotron, which was completed on June 2, 1944. Gentner was a professor at the University of Freiburg from 1946 to 1958 , then at the University of Heidelberg until his retirement in 1974 . From 1955 to 1959 he was director of the “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” ( CERN ) research center in Geneva and from 1958 to 1972 he was the director of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg.

Gentner, a member or honorary member of numerous academies and scientific societies (the Leopoldina since 1958 ), received many important awards. Among other things, Gentner became an officer of the French Legion of Honor in 1965 , received the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the order Pour le Mérite for science and the arts , he was also awarded the Cothenius Gold Medal in 1977 by the Leopoldina and in 1979 the city's Otto Hahn Prize Frankfurt am Main awarded. He was married to Alice Gentner.

Publications (selection)

  • Friedolf ​​M. Smits and Wolfgang Gentner: Argon determinations on potassium minerals. I. Provisions on tertiary potash salts. In: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. Volume 1, No. 1, 1950, pp. 22-27, doi: 10.1016 / 0016-7037 (50) 90005-6
  • Conversations with Frédéric Joliot-Curie in occupied Paris 1940–1942. Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, Heidelberg 1980.,
  • Commemorative Words for Walther Gerlach, in: Orden Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts, Speeches and Commemorative Words, Volume 16, 1980, Lambert Schneider Verlag, Heidelberg:


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Orden pour le Mérite For Science and the Arts Commemorative Words for Walter Gerlach accessed on December 22, 2019
  2. Ulrich Schmidt-Rohr: Gentner, Wolfgang (digitized version) accessed on December 22, 2019