Wilhelm Wien

Wilhelm Carl Werner Otto Fritz Franz Wien (January 13, 1864 – August 30, 1928) was a German physicist who, in 1893, used theories about heat and electromagnetism to compose Wien's displacement law, which relates the maximum emission of a blackbody to its temperature.

As Max von Laue wrote of Wien, "his immortal glory" was that he "led us to the very gates of quantum physics".

Wien was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for 1911. A crater on Mars is named in his honor.

In 1913 he was invited as an Ernest Kempton Adams Lecturer in Theoretical Physics from Columbia University.

Early life

Wien was born at Fischhausen, in East Prussia (now Poland) as the son of landowner Carl Wien. In 1866, his family moved to Drachstein, in Rastenburg, East Prussia.


In 1879, Wien went to school in Rastenburg and from 1880-1882 he attended the city school of Heidelberg. In 1882 he attended the University of Göttingen and the University of Berlin. From 1883-85, he worked in the laboratory of Hermann von Helmholtz and, in 1886, he received his Ph.D. with a thesis on the diffraction of light upon metals and on the influence of various materials upon the color of refracted light.

Work by Wien

In 1896 Wien derived a distribution law of radiation. Planck, who was a colleague of Wien's when he was carrying out this work, later, in 1900, based quantum theory on the fact that Wien's law, while valid at high frequencies, broke down completely at low frequencies.

While studying streams of ionized gas Wien, in 1898, identified a positive particle equal in mass to the hydrogen atom. Wien, with this work, laid the foundation of mass spectroscopy. J J Thomson refined Wien's apparatus and conducted further experiments in 1913 then, after work by E Rutherford in 1919, Wien's particle was accepted and named the proton.

Wien received the 1911 Nobel Prize for his work on heat radiation.

Wien's Distribution Law

Books by Wien

  • Lehrbuch der Hydrodynamik (1900, physics) Aus dem Leben und Wirken eines Physikers (1930, memoir)


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