The Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft
, German Physical Society) is the world's largest organization of physicists. The DPG's worldwide membership is cited as 52,000, as of 2007. It holds an annual conference (Jahrestagung) and multiple spring conferences (Frühjahrstagungen), which are held at various locations and along topical subjects of given sections of the DPG.
The DPG was founded in 1899 to succeed the Physikalische Gesellschaft zu Berlin (Physical Society of Berlin) established 14 January 1845. The six scientists who founded the Physical Society of Berlin were: Gustav Karsten (1820-1900, physicist), Wilhelm Heinrich Heintz (1817-1880, chemist), Karl-Hermann Knoblauch (1820-1895, physicist), Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke (1819-1892, physiologist), Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896, physiologist), and Wilhelm von Beetz (1822-1886, physicist). While only three of them were physicists, they were all under 28 years old and students of the physicist Heinrich Gustav Magnus. The purpose of starting the Society was to set themselves apart from the authorities and allow unfettered discussion away from the well-trodden paths.
Under National Socialism
The DPG was in opposition to National Socialism’s persecution of the Jews in general, and their promotion of Deutsche Physik, in particular. On 7 April 1933, barely two months after Adolf Hitler seized power on 30 January 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, was passed; under this law, Jewish civil servants and regime opponents were removed from their jobs. These policies had significant effects on physics in Germany through significant qualitative and quantitative losses of physicists as a result of emigration and through political decisions overriding those based on academic and scientific considerations; 25% of the physicists holding academic positions in the period 1932-1933 were lost due to the policies. The opposition can be illustrated by just a few examples, such as the DPG not immediately dismissing Jews after passage of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, Max von Laue’s address at the opening of the 1933 physics convention in Würzburg, opposition to Johannes Stark exercising the Führerprinzip in attempting to become the dictator of physics, and Carl Ramsauer’s opposition to the politicization of education:
- When the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed in 1933, the DPG dragged its feet in the dismissal of Jews for more than five years. It was not until the end of 1938, on the initiation of Herbert Stuart and Wilhelm Orthmann, that the DPG asked Jewish members to withdraw their membership.
- Max von Laue, as chairman of the DPG, gave the opening address at the 1933 physics convention held in Würzburg. In it, he compared the persecution of Galileo and the oppression of his scientific views on the Solar theory of Copernicus to the then conflict and persecution over the theory of relativity by the proponents of Deutsche Physik, against Einstein’s theory of relativity, labeled as “Jewish physics.”
- Johannes Stark, a holder of the Nobel Prize in Physics, was a proponent of Deutsche Physik. Acting under the Führerprinzip, Stark attempted to become “dictator of physics,” as part of a plan to reorganize and coordinate German scientific societies to National Socialist ideology and policies. These actions brought opposition from members of the DPG. For example, Max von Laue, in 1933, blocked Stark’s regular membership in the Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Furthermore, also in 1933, Stark, President of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR), ran for president of the DPG against Karl Mey, the industrial physicist and head of Osram. Stark received only two votes! In retribution, Stark canceled the DPG’s use of its rooms in the PTR, deleted PTR travel expenses for its personnel to attend DPG meetings, and forbid PTR personnel from lecturing at DPG meetings.
- Carl Ramsauer, president of the DPG 1940 to 1945, and his deputy, Wolfgang Finkelnburg, steered a relatively independent course from the party line of the National Socialists and against Deutsche Physik, which was anti-Semitic and anti-theoretical physics, especially including modern physics, i.e., quantum mechanics. Early in 1942, as chairman of the DPG, Ramsauer, on Felix Klein’s initiative and with the support of Ludwig Prandtl, submitted a petition to Reich Minister Bernhard Rust, at the Reichserziehungsministerium (Reich Education Ministry). The petition, a letter and six attachments, addressed the atrocious state of physics instruction in Germany, which Ramsauer concluded was the result of politicization of education.
After the conclusion of World War II, in 1946, von Laue initiated the founding of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft in only the British Zone, as the Allied Control Council would not initially allow organizations across occupation zone boundaries. The DPG was eventually also reinstituted individually in the American and French sectors. These individually established organizations were united in West Germany in 1950, only after the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany on 23 May 1949. It was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the DPG again fully unified across Germany.
With emphasis on the periods of the rise of theoretical physics and quantum mechanics in Germany (1900 to 1933) and the rule of the National Socialists (1933-1945), the Presidents of the DPG have included:
Publications of the DPG have included:
- Berichte der Deutschen physikalischen Gesellschaft
- Verhandlungen der Deutschen physikalischen Gesellschaft
- Physikalische Blätter
- Fortschritte der Physik
- Zeitschrift für Physik, which was first published in 1920 and was the vehicle used by those with avant-garde views and the young generation of quantum physicists in the 1920s.
Awards and Prizes
The highest awards which are presented by the DPG are the Max-Planck medal for work in theoretical physics, first awarded in 1929, and the Stern-Gerlach medal for work in experimental physics, first awarded in 1933. There are also more ten prizes, the first of which was added in 1942.
- Beyerchen, Alan D. Scientists Under Hitler: Politics and the Physics Community in the Third Reich (Yale, 1977) ISBN 0-300-01830-4
- Heilbron, J. L. The Dilemmas of an Upright Man: Max Planck and the Fortunes of German Science (Harvard, 2000) ISBN 0-674-00439-6
- Hentschel, Klaus, editor and Ann M. Hentschel, editorial assistant and Translator Physics and National Socialism: An Anthology of Primary Sources (Birkhäuser, 1996) ISBN 0-8176-5312-0
- Hoffmann, Dieter Between Autonomy and Accommodation: The German Physical Society during the Third Reich, Physics in Perspective 7(3) 293-329 (2005)
- Jungnickel, Christa and Russell McCormmach. Intellectual Mastery of Nature. Theoretical Physics from Ohm to Einstein, Volume 2: The Now Mighty Theoretical Physics, 1870 to 1925. (University of Chicago Press, Paper cover, 1990) ISBN 0-226-41585-6
- Kragh, Helge Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 1999) ISBN 0-691-09552-3
- DPG – Official Web site
- DPG – Medals and Prizes
- DPG – Membership 1938 vs. 1939