James Franck

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Related to James Franck: Gustav Hertz

Franck, James

(frängk), 1882–1964, German physicist. He was professor of physics at Göttingen and at Johns Hopkins (1935–38) and professor of physical chemistry at the Univ. of Chicago from 1938. He specialized in atomic structure and photosynthesis. With Gustav Hertz he shared the 1925 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery (1914) of the laws governing the effect of the impact of the electron on the atom.

Franck, James


Born Aug. 26, 1882, in Hamburg; died May 21, 1964, in Göttingen. German physicist.

In 1901–02, Franck studied at the University of Heidelberg, and in 1906 he received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Berlin. From 1906 to 1918 he taught at the University of Berlin, where he became a professor in 1916. From 1918 to 1920 he worked at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry (in Dahlem, near Berlin). From 1920 to 1934 he was a professor and director of the physics institute of the University of Göttingen.

After the seizure of power by the fascists, Franck left Germany. In 1934–35 he worked in Copenhagen, whereupon he moved to the United States. From 1935 to 1938 he was a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., and from 1938, at the University of Chicago.

In 1913, with Gustav Hertz, Franck carried out an experimental study of the excitation of mercury atoms that served as proof of the existence of discrete atomic energy levels. For this work he received a Nobel Prize in 1925 with Hertz. He studied the collisions of electrons and atoms with molecules, explained the relationship between intramolecular forces and molecular spectra, and formulated the Franck-Condon principle (for the conservation of the relative position and velocities of atoms in molecular electronic transitions). Franck also worked on photosynthesis.

In 1945, Franck publicly spoke out against the use of the atomic bomb. He was a member of the Royal Society of London (1964).


Anregung von Quantensprüngen durch Stösse. Berlin, 1926. (With P. Jordan.)


Kuhn, H. G. “James Franck, 1882–1964.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 1965, vol. 11, pp. 53–74. (References.)