Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft

Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft
Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft e.V.

© Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft
Abbreviation DPG
Formation 1845
Type Scientific
Purpose/focus Research
Location Germany
Membership 60,000

The Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG, German Physical Society) is the world's largest organization of physicists. The DPG's worldwide membership is cited as 60,000, as of 2011. 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.[1][2]


Formation and History

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).[3] 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.[4] The DPG sees itself as the forum and mouthpiece for physics and is a non-profit organisation that does not pursue financial interests. It supports the sharing of ideas and thoughts within the scientific community, fosters physics teaching and would also like to open a window to physics for all those with a healthy curiosity. The DPG brings together professors, students and teachers, those working in industry and those who are simply interested in physics as such, as well as science journalists and patent agents. At present the DPG counts nine Nobel Prize winners in its ranks. The Society has always had world-famous members, including Albert Einstein, Hermann von Helmholtz and Max Planck as former DPG Presidents for example. The DPG is funded primarily by membership fees. It also receives financial support for its activities from state and national sources, as well as non-profit organisations. The DPG cooperates on a particularly close scale with the Wilhelm and Else Heraeus Foundation.

Conferences and fostering young talent

The DPG itself does not carry out any research, but its conferences promote the sharing of information about the latest findings in the field of physics. The traditional "Spring Meetings" held by the DPG year for year at various venues across the country are attended by around 9,000 experts from Germany and abroad. The largest physics conference in Europe is regularly among these conferences. Fostering young talent is another central concern of the DPG so that its conferences provide a platform particularly for the young generation. They offer students an opportunity to meet renowned scientists in person. Furthermore, the DPG runs a nationwide network for physics students in the working group "Young DPG". Women also have a forum of their own with the "German Conference of Women in Physics" which is held every year.

Awards and school projects

The DPG honours outstanding achievements in physics with awards of international repute. The two most important awards are the "Max-Planck-Medal for Theoretical Physics” and the "Stern-Gerlach-Medal for Experimental Physics”. Some awards such as the "Gustav-Hertz-Award for Young Physicists" intend to foster young talent, while others are awarded by the DPG in cooperation with other organisations in Germany and abroad, such as the "Otto Hahn Prize". The "Medal for Natural Science Journalism” is awarded by the DPG to personalities who have made a special contribution to bringing scientific facts to the attention of the general public. In addition, the DPG awards prizes to school graduates throughout the country for outstanding achievements in physics. It supports competitions for school students such as "Jugend forscht" (national research contest for young scientists), promotes innovative school projects and organises advanced training courses for teaching staff.

Magazines and publications

The DPG produces a range of various publications. The membership journal of the DPG “Physik Journal” provides news reports from the DPG and about physics in general. Besides, the DPG joins forces with the British Institute of Physics to publish the electronic magazine “New Journal of Physics”. This open-access magazine is available online at All articles can be read and downloaded free of charge. The articles published here have gone through a strict peer review in line with the stringent scientific quality standards propounded by the New Journal of Physics. Moreover, the DPG also publishes its conference programme every year under the name "VERHANDLUNGEN der DPG" (Programme Booklets for DPG Conferences), listing the abstracts of around 8,000 papers. And the web portal operated jointly by the DPG and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) provides lots of information about physics even for nonexperts.

Physics and public relations

The DPG plays an active role in the dialogue between science and the general public with a range of popular scientific publications and public events. These activities also include the “Highlights of Physics”. The annual physics festival organised jointly by the DPG and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is the largest of its kind in Germany with around 20,000 visitors every year.

Studies and social commitment

The DPG engages in socio-political discussions by releasing press statements, carrying out studies, giving statements and attending parliamentary evenings. It deals with current issues such as fostering young talent, climate protection, energy supply or arms control through to science and cultural history issues. The DPG is very particularly committed to equal opportunities for men and women and to promote women in natural sciences.

In Bonn and Berlin

The DPG office headed by the Chief Executive Bernhard Nunner is located in the Physikzentrum Bad Honnef (physics conference centre in Bad Honnef), in the neighbourhood of the university and federal city of Bonn. The Physikzentrum is not only a meeting place and discussion forum of outstanding significance for physics in Germany but also an international brand for the discipline of physics. Students and cutting edge scientists through to Nobel Prize winners meet here to share their thoughts and ideas on a scientific level. Teaching staffs also gladly come to Bad Honnef time and again to attend advanced training courses relating to pure physics and the didactic aspects of this discipline, in the seminars held by the DPG. The DPG is also present in Germany's capital Berlin. It has been running the Magnus-Haus in Berlin since its reunification with the Physical Society of East Germany in 1990. This urban palace completed in 1760 - bearing the name of the natural scientist Gustav Magnus - has close links to the history of the DPG: it was the regular meeting place of scholars during the 19th century that eventually resulted in the "Physical Society of Berlin" being founded in 1845, which later became the DPG. Today it is a venue for meetings and lectures on physical and socio-political issues. The Magnus-Haus is also home to the DPG's historical archive.

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[5][6] 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.[7] 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.[8][9]
  • 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.”[10]
  • 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.[11] Furthermore, also in 1933, Stark, President of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR),[12] 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 forbade PTR personnel from lecturing at DPG meetings.[13]
  • 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,[14] addressed the atrocious state of physics instruction in Germany, which Ramsauer concluded was the result of politicization of education.[15][16][17][18]


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.[19]


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:[20][21]


Publications of the DPG have included:[27][28]

  • Berichte der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft
  • Verhandlungen der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft
  • Physikalische Blätter now called Physik Journal
  • 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.[29]

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 several others prizes, such as the Walter Schottky Prize and Gustav Hertz Prize.[30]


  1. ^ DPG – Official Web site
  2. ^ Circa 1918 its membership was about 750 and in the 1930s about 1400. See Hentschel, 1996, Appendix A.
  3. ^ Photo of the founders
  4. ^ Hoffmann, 2005, 294-295.
  5. ^ Beyerchen, 1977, pp. 40-50.
  6. ^ Kragh, 1999, 230-256.
  7. ^ Beyerchen, 1977, p. 200. The losses in the physics community were significantly higher than the losses in the other natural sciences.
  8. ^ Hentschel, 1996, Appendix A; see the entry for the DPG.
  9. ^ DPG – Membership 1938 vs. 1939
  10. ^ Max von Laue My Development as a Physicist. Von Laue’s speech is printed in the appendix.
  11. ^ Hentschel, 1996, Appendix F; see the entry for Max von Laue.
  12. ^ Stark was President of the PTR as of May 1933, and the DPG election was in September of that year.
  13. ^ Hoffmann, 2005, pp. 299 and 307.
  14. ^ Letter to Bernhard Rust, 20 January 1942. Document # 90 in Hentschel, 1996, pp. 278-281.
    • Attachment I: American Physics Outdoes German Physics. Document #91 in Hentschel, 1996, pp. 281-284.
    • Attachment II: Publications Against Modern Theoretical Physics. Cited in Hentschel, 1996, p. 279, but omitted from the anthology.
    • Attachment III: The Crucial Importance of Theoretical Physics and Particularly Modern Theoretical Physics. Cited in Hentschel, 1996, p. 280, but omitted from the anthology.
    • Attachment IV: Refuting Allegations that Modern Theoretical Physics is a Product of the Jewish Spirit. Document 92 in Hentschel, 1996, pp. 290-292.
    • Attachment V: Excerpt from an attachment to Ludwig Prandtl’s letter to Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, 28 April 1941. Cited in Hentschel, 1996, 280; see Document #85 in Hentschel, 1996, pp. 261- 266.
    • Attachment VI: The Munich Conciliation and Pacification Attempt. Document #93 in Hentschel, 1996, pp. 290 – 292.
  15. ^ Hentschel, 1966, Appendix A; see the entry for the DPG.
  16. ^ Hentschel, 1966, Appendix F, see the entry for Carl Ramsauer.
  17. ^ Beyerchen, 1977, pp. 184-186.
  18. ^ Hoffmann, 2005, 306 – 314.
  19. ^ Hentschel, 1996, Appendix A; see the entry on the DPG.
  20. ^ Hentschel, 1996, Appendix A; see the entry for the DPG.
  21. ^ DPG – A comprehensive list of presidents of the DPG is on this site.
  22. ^ Heilbron, 2000, p. 84.
  23. ^ Hentschel, 1996, Appendix F; see the entry for Arnold Sommerfeld.
  24. ^ Beyerchen, 1977, p. 107.
  25. ^ Hentschel, 1966, Appendix F, see the entry for Walter Gerlach.
  26. ^ Hentschel, 1996, Appendix F; see the entry for Wolfgang Finkelnburg.
  27. ^ Hentschel, 1996, Appendix A; see the entry for the DPG.
  28. ^ Jungnickel, Volume 2, 1990, p. 421. See the listing for the German Physical Society.
  29. ^ Kragh, 1999, pp. 150-151.
  30. ^ DPG – Medals and Prizes

Further reading

  • 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

External links

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