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James Franck

James FranckBorn: 26-Aug-1882
Birthplace: Hamburg, Germany
Died: 21-May-1964
Location of death: Göttingen, Germany
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Ohlsdorfer Friedhof, Hamburg, Germany

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Franck-Hertz experiment

Military service: German Army (World War I)

German-American physicist James Franck spent his career exploring the interaction of light with matter, with major research into photosynthesis in green plants and the behavior of atoms. With his colleague and collaborator, Gustav Hertz, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1925, for their description of laws governing what happens when electrons bombard the atom.

Their best-known experiment, which is referred to as the Franck-Hertz Experiment of 1914, measured the kinetic energy lost by electrons in inelastic collisions with atoms, and showed the existence of excited states in mercury atoms. This provided the first experimental evidence to support the existence of stationary energy states and other aspects of Niels Bohr's atomic theory. Also in 1925, Franck proposed what is now called the Franck-Condon principle, which states that that in any molecular system the transition from one energy state to another is so rapid that the nuclei of the atoms involved can be considered to be stationary during the transition.

While serving in the German Army during World War I he was awarded the Iron Cross for heroism, on two occasions. His WWI military service made him immune to the Nazi regime's racial purity laws banning Jews from public employment, yet he publicly protested the passage of these laws and, in 1933, quit his post at the University of Göttingen and fled Germany. After spending a year working with Bohr at Copenhagen, Franck came to America, where he became a citizen and worked on the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons.

In 1945, with Leo Szilard and numerous other scientists, he co-authored what is now called the "Franck Report" to the War Department in 1945, urging his adopted nation to demonstrate its new weapon at some uninhabited location as a incentive to compel Japan's surrender, instead of dropping these new bombs on Japanese cities. The report, famously ignored, also warned that use of atomic weapons could trigger an arms race that could cause wasteful military spending in numerous nations, and lead to dangerous confrontations between atomic-armed nation-states.

When Franck fled Germany he left his Nobel Prize locked in a safe. To keep the medal (made of gold) from being seized, melted and sold to support the German effort during World War II, Franck's colleague George de Hevesy had the Nobel Prizes of Franck and Bohr reduced to powder and stored without a label. After the war, the dust that had been Franck and Bohr's Nobel Prizes was shipped to the Nobel Foundation in Sweden to be recast, and in 1951 the Nobels were re-presented to both men, who were close friends.

Father: Jacob Franck (banker)
Mother: Rebecca Nachum Drucker Franck
Wife: Ingrid Josephson Franck (pianist, m. 23-Dec-1907, d. 1942, two daughters)
Daughter: Dagmar Franck von Hippel (b. 2-Oct-1909, d. 1975)
Daughter: Elisabeth Franck ("Lisa", b. 19-Dec-1911)
Wife: Hertha Sponer-Franck (physicist, b. 1-Sep-1895, m. 29-Jun-1946, d. 27-Feb-1968)

    High School: Wilhelm Gymnasium, Hamburg, Germany (1901)
    University: Chemistry, University of Heidelberg (attended, 1901-02)
    University: PhD Physics, University of Berlin (1906)
    Scholar: Physics, University of Frankfurt (1906-07)
    Scholar: Physics, University of Berlin (1907-11)
    Lecturer: Physics, University of Berlin (1911-18)
    Professor: Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry, Berlin-Dahlem, Germany (1918-20)
    Professor: Physics, University of Göttingen (1920-33)
    Administrator: Second Institute for Experimental Physics, University of Göttingen (1920-33)
    Professor: Speyer Professor, Johns Hopkins University (1933)
    Professor: Physics, University of Copenhagen (1934-35)
    Professor: Physics, Johns Hopkins University (1935-38)
    Professor: Physics, University of Chicago (1938-64)

    Iron Cross (1st Class, World War I)
    Iron Cross (2nd Class, World War I)
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1925 (with Gustav Hertz)
    Max Planck Medal 1951 (with Gustav Hertz)
    Rumford Prize 1955
    Manhattan Project 1942-45
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Chemical Society
    American Philosophical Society
    American Physical Society
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    German Physical Society
    National Academy of Sciences
    Royal Society 1964 (Foreign Member)
    Naturalized US Citizen Jul-1941
    Heart Attack 21-May-1964 (fatal)
    Lunar Crater Franck (22.6° N, 35.5° E, 12 km. diameter)
    German Ancestry
    Jewish Ancestry

Author of books:
Photosynthesis in Plants (1949, non-fiction; with Walter E. Loomis)


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