Gustav Ludwig Hertz was born on July 22, 1887, in Hamburg, Germany. In 1906, he entered the University of Göttingen; after a few years he transferred to the Universities of Munich and Berlin, where he graduated in 1911.
In 1913, Hertz was appointed Research Assistant at the Physics Intstitute at the Berlin University. It was there that Hertz first met James Franck. From 1912-1914, Hertz worked extensively on the Franck-Hertz experiment, which 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.
In 1914, Hertz was drafted into the German Army. After being severly injured in combat, Hertz was released in 1915. Following the war, from 1920 to 1925, he worked in the physics laboratory at the Philips Incandescent Lamp Factory at Eindhoven.
In 1925, he was made Resident Professor and Director of the Physics Institute of the University of Halle. In 1928, Hertz moved to the Charlottenburg Technological University in Berlin as Director of the Physics Institute. There he developed a method of separating the isotopes (chemical elements with the same number of protons, but different atomic masses) of neons. As a result of rising anti-Semitism, Hertz resigned from this position in 1935.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany, he moved to the Soviet Union. From 1945 to 1954, Hertz headed a research laboratory. In 1954, he returned to East Germany where he was appointed Professor and Director of the Physics Institute in Leipzig. In 1961, he was emeritus.
He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1925, along with Franck, 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.
In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, Hertz was elected a member of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin and a Foreign Member of the Academy of Sciences U.S.S.R. Hertz was also awarded the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society.
Hertz died in Berlin, on October 30, 1975.