(1882 - 1964)
James Franck was born on August 26, 1882, in Hamburg, Germany. He studied chemistry
for a year at the University of Heildelberg, and then studied physics
at the University of Berlin, where he completed his doctorate in 1906.
In 1911, he accepted the position of physics lecturer at the University
of Berlin, where he remained until 1918. From 1912-1914, Franck worked
extensively on the Franck-Hertz experiment, with Gustav
research sought to experimentally probe the energy levels of the atom.
This research was an important confirmation of the Bohr model of the
atom, with electrons orbiting the nucleus with specific, discrete energies.
They proved that atoms can absorb internal energy only in definite amounts.
War I, Franck served in the German Army.
Following World War I, Franck headed the Physics Division in the Kaiser
Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry at Berlin-Dahlem. A few years
later, in 1920, Frank moved to the University of Göttingen to become
Professor of Experimental Physics and Director of the Second Institute
for Experimental Physics.
In 1925, Franck received the Nobel
Prize for Physics, which he shared with Hertz, for their work in
quantum physics. Quantum mechanics is a fundamental physical theory
that extends, corrects and unifies Newtonian mechanics and Maxwellian
electromagnetism, at the atomic and subatomic levels. Franck and Hertz
studied the movements of free electrons in various gases and the impacts
these electrons have on an atom’s functions.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany, Franck left for the United States in 1933.
He first settled in Baltimore, Maryland where he became the Speyer Professor at John Hopkins University. He
then returned to Europe for a year, to be a guest lecturer in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In 1935, Franck returned to John Hopkins University
as the Professor of Physics. He left this position in 1938, to accept
the professorship in phyiscal chemistry at the University of Chicago.
In 1947, the University of Chicago awarded Franck the position of professor
emeritus. Until 1956, Franck continued working at Chicago as Head of
the Photosynthesis Research Group.
He became involved in the Manhattan Project during World War II. Franck was
the chairman of the Committee on Political and Social Problems regarding
the atomic bomb; which included Donald J. Hughes, J. J. Nickson, Eugene
Rabinowitch, Glenn T. Seaborg, J. C. Stearns and Leo
Szilard. The committee is most known for the compilation of the
“Franck Report,” finished on June 11, 1945, which was a
summary of the problems regarding the military application of the atomic
bomb. In the report, Franck urged the War Department to use the weapon
in an uninhabitated location or warn the enemy prior to launching the
In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, he was awarded
the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society in 1951. In 1955,
for his work on photosynthesis, Franck received the Rumford Medal of
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Finally, in 1964, he was
elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in London.
Franck died in Gottingen, Germany on May 21, 1964.