Saturday 8 August 2020

Johannes Stark (Sweden, 1979)

My inner geek was delighted to find this stamp celebrating a man called Stark winning a Nobel Prize… Then I read his Wikipedia entry…

Johannes Stark was born in Germany in 1874, studied and taught in Munich, Gottingen, Aachen and elsewhere. As editor of a scientific journal, in 1907, he invited a certain Albert Einstein to contribute a review on recent ideas around the notion of relativity, kickstarting Einstein’s career and global fame. Stark himself published more than 300 papers, mostly on the subject of electricity, at a time of rapid development and innovation in sciences in Europe. In 1913, he discovered the Doppler effect in canal rays (anode rays – science stuff) and the splitting of spectral lines in electric fields, which came to be known as the Stark effect. As shown by the stamp, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for these discoveries.

This is when things started to go wrong. Stark was an active supporter of Hitler from 1924 onwards and a loud proponent of science serving the interests of the state. He was a deep and committed anti-Semite and a leader of the Deutsche Physik group which sought to remove Jews from the science of physics. After World War II, he was tried for his involvement and sentenced to four years in a labour camp, later suspended. Whilst he tried to distance himself from the Nazis’ wartime actions, as far as I can tell he never recanted or apologised for his views. He died in 1957.

Wikipedia reports all of this, as does Encyclopedia Britannica. The Nobel website focuses on his scientific work but doesn’t mention the Nazism. They do, however, manage to give the valuable insight into his personality that he enjoyed cultivating fruit trees…

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