Fields of Research
Otto Stern and Physics in Hamburg in the 1920sIn the 1920s, the Hamburgische Universität, as it was called in German, evolved into a world-renowned center for physics. And Otto Stern was, as his name suggests, its “star.” Stern built up the Institute of Physical Chemistry between 1923 and 1933. His pioneering work in the fields of atomic, molecular, and nuclear physics was highly admired and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1943. Stern attracted researchers to Hamburg from all over the world, including Wolfgang Pauli, Isidor Rabi, Emilio Segrè, and Hans Jensen, who would all go on to become Nobel Prize winners as well. This golden era ended in 1933: facing expulsion from the University for being Jewish, Otto Stern emigrated to the United States.
Excellent!In July 2019, the University was chosen as one of eleven winners of the Excellence Strategy of the Federal and State Governments and awarded the title University of Excellence. This makes it one of Germany’s top research-intensive universities—a fact confirmed by the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat). As a flagship university, Universität Hamburg is committed to innovation and collaborative research in greater Hamburg. It generates and fosters sustainable know- ledge, education, and knowledge exchange nationally and internationally.
Otto Stern (1888–1969) in HamburgOtto Stern came to Hamburg in 1923. As a full professor of physical chemistry, he was given his own institute, where he maintained a laboratory of world renown. With his colleagues from the neighboring institutes of theoretical and applied physics, Stern made Hamburg into one of the world’s leading centers for physics.
TeamworkOtto Stern formed a successful working group with his assistants, his fellows from abroad, and his students. The group, however, was torn apart in 1933, when the University dismissed his three assistants because they were Jewish. With the dissolution of the group and Stern’s resignation, one of Hamburg’s most productive periods in physics was ended.
Involvement in University AdministrationOtto Stern was highly respected at the University. In 1930 – 31, he was dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and in the following semesters a member of the University senate.
Nobel Prize for Otto SternOtto Stern received the 1943 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his contribution to the development of the molecular ray method and his discovery of the magnetic moment of the proton.” The Prize was retroactively awarded in 1944. Since 1925, his colleagues, including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Max Planck, had nominated him for the Prize eighty-one times.
Hamburg—A Breeding Ground for Nobel Prize LaureatesAlongside Stern, Isidor Rabi also received the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physics. Rabi had worked with Stern as a fellow in Hamburg. In the 1920s, Hamburg was a magnet for young physicists from all over the world. Several of them—W. Pauli, E. Segré, and H. Jensen—later also became Nobel laureates.
Wolfgang PauliWolfgang Pauli came to Hamburg in 1923 as an assistant and became a professor in 1926. His years in Hamburg were among the most productive of his career. He developed into one of the foremost theoreticians in the new field of quantum physics and discovered what came to be called the Pauli exclusion principle, for which he was awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Friends and ColleaguesAlthough Pauli was a theoretical physicist and Stern did his experiments at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, the two drew inspiration from each other for their work. According to Pauli, the two were life-long friends. “… under Stern’s influence, [I switched] from water directly to champagne.”
Acts of FriendshipAfter Otto Stern emigrated to the US, he supported other emigrés. His concern for his former colleagues in Germany extended well past 1945. He sent care packages to Hans Jensen, the 1963 Nobel laureate in physics, who had been his assistant in Hamburg in 1932. Thereupon the two began a regular correspondence.
Stern’s Experimental WorkStern’s research methods were considered ingenious. Using a magnet now on display at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Stern conducted experiments on the development of molecular radiation technology. The statics of the exhibition space prevent us from displaying the original magnet, which weighs roughly 400 kg.
The Wave Characteristics of MatterWith his molecular ray method, Stern developed a measurement method with which the inner characteristics of atoms and molecules could be studied. With it, he was able to demonstrate the wave nature of atoms and molecules, thus confirming the concept of wave-particle duality in the young field of quantum physics.
Dismissal From Civil ServiceOtto Stern preempted his pending dismissal for being Jewish. In 1933, he sent a telegram requesting his release from the civil service. He emigrated to the US, where he became a professor at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. He was never able to achieve the same success as in Hamburg, however.
The Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging (CUI): Cluster of Excellence Advanced Imaging of MatterThere are 330 physicists, chemists, and structural biologists wor-king in the cluster of excellence for photon and nanosciences. They “observe, understand, and monitor” atoms and molecules to discover the principles behind the origin of certain characteristics.
Cluster of Excellence: Climate, Climatic Change, and Society (CLICCS)About 210 scientists from more than fifteen natural science, economic, and social science disciplines work in the Climate, Climatic Change and Society cluster of excellence. They study issues related to the future of the climate and the interplay between climate change and society.
Cluster of Excellence: Understanding Written ArtefactsCurrently, 130 scholars of the humanities and natural sciences study the use and function of written artefacts and the materials upon which they were written, from manuscripts to inscriptions to graffiti. Central to their research is the worldwide diversity of the written word: from the beginning of writing to the present day.
Cluster of Excellence: Quantum UniverseWhat is dark matter? What can gravitational waves teach us about the Big Bang? Many questions about the creation and development of the universe remain unanswered. More than 300 physicists and mathematicians are working together to find new answers from the fields of cosmology, particle physics, and quantum theory.
Research for Freedom and DemocracyIn 1923, the Institut für Auswärtige Politik, a center for inter-national policy, was founded in Hamburg. It was one of the world’s pioneers in interdisciplinary research on peace and the causes of war. The head of the institute, Albrecht Mendels-sohn Bartholdy (1874–1936), had held the chair for civil law, international law, and international civil and procedural law in the University’s law faculty since 1920. Due to his accomplishments as an international law expert, he was named as a judge to the International Court of Justice in 1925. In 1931, he became the German delegate to the League of Nations. In 1933, Mendelssohn Bartholdy was forced to retire.
Business Administration: Research and PraxisThe first chair for business administration was established in 1927 at the faculty of law and statecraft at Universität Hamburg. Curt Eisfeld (1886–1969) brought to the chair many years of experience in business. Until his retirement in 1951, Eisfeld’s main areas of concentration were banking and insurance. He was instrumental in initiating the creation of a degree program and exam regulations for business administration. The estate’s library testifies to Eisfeld’s many interests and activities in research and teaching.
Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945)Cassirer counts among the 20th century’s most influential philosophers. In 1919, he became a tenured professor in the University’s philosophy faculty. In 1929/1930, he was named rector. It was here that he wrote his three-volume The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, a work of cultural philosophy that takes a close look at the manifold ways human beings understand the world. Cassirer engaged in a heady exchange with the cultural scientist and private tutor Aby Warburg. As a committed democrat, Cassirer used his lectures and academic papers to defend the values of freedom and reason. He was forced out of his position in 1933 and went into exile.
The Path to European ThoughtThe emergence of European thought began with the ancient Greeks and revealed itself in the evolution of the meanings of words. It was this idea that Bruno Snell (1896–1986), chair for classical philology and one of the most important Greek scholars of the 20th century, made the focus of his work. Snell was a professor at the University from 1931 until his retirement in 1959, despite his critical views of the National Socialist regime. As rector from 1951 to 1953, Snell strove to reintegrate the University into the international landscape. At the end of Second World War, he initiated the archive of Greek lexicography. In 1955, he founded the Europa Kolleg Institute for European Integration.
War Guilt: The Fischer ControversyIn his 1961 study Germany’s Aims in the First World War, the Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer (1908–1999) reinterpreted the role played by German leaders at the outbreak of the First World War. According to Fischer, the empire did not simply “slip into” war but purposefully instigated it to pursue far-reaching goals. Fischer’s thesis caused great controversy among historians, who publicly debated Germany’s responsibility for the war and the continuities between the First and Second World Wars. The controversy led to further intensive research on the causes of the First World War.
Meteorology: More Than Just Weather and ClimateEven before the Institute of Meteorology was founded in 1929, researchers such as polar explorer Alfred Wegener gave lectures at the University. From its modest beginnings, the Institute evolved into one of today’s largest German university institutes for climatology and meteorology. The Institute has a long tradition of interdisciplinary research and close collaboration with external research institutions. Research in marine meteorology has been a long-standing focus. Since the 1980s, investigating the causes of environmental damage has become increasingly important.
Towards a Modern-Day CriminologyMoritz Liepmann (1869–1928), the first tenured professor to hold the chair for criminal, judicial, and procedural law established in 1919, is also considered the father of modern criminology. His concept of reformed detention for young offenders was based on new educational principles. The psychologist and social researcher Curt Bondy (1894–1972), who received his Habilitation under Liepmann, continued to pursue Liepmann’s ideas until he was forced into exile. The sociologist Fritz Sack (*1931) revamped criminology at the University in 1984 by championing criminological social research.
Pascual Jordan and Theoretical PhysicsAlongside Max Born and Werner Heisenberg, the physicist Pascual Jordan (1902–1980), who received his Habilitiation in Göttingen in 1926, developed the foundation of quantum physics in the 1920s. From 1928 to 1929, Jordan was a Privatdozent at the University, meaning he was a senior lecturer without a permanent teaching contract. After he was “de-nazified,” Jordan was a visiting professor at the University’s state physics institute from 1947–1953. In 1953, the professorship was made permanent. Until Jordan retired in 1970, his research on the theory of relativity and gravitational physics made the institute one of the most important places for theoretical physics.
Politics as an Academic SubjectIt was here in Hamburg in 1927 that Siegfried Landshut (1897–1968) became the first person at a German university to attempt to receive his Habilitation in politics—in vain. In 1951, after he returned from exile, Landshut was the first to hold the chair for “the science of politics,” a position he held for fourteen years. He edited and published the early works of Karl Marx, introducing them to the wider public. Landshut was especially interested in the possibilities for just political systems to balance the competing demands of freedom, equality, and sovereignty.
The Psychological LaboratoryAs one of the main actors to champion the founding of the University, William Stern (1871–1938) took over as head of the philosophy seminar and the Psychological Laboratory, which served as a kind of pacemaker in the Weimar Republic. Stern founded differential psychology and is considered the inventor of the IQ test. In addition to Stern’s research on developmental psychology, the works of his associates Curt Bondy, Heinz Werner, and Martha Muchow were also path-breaking. Their applied research approaches brought together the humanities, the social and the bio-sciences.
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Today, over 4,400 researchers work in several disciplines. Over the last 100 years, many of our researchers have done ground-breaking work in their subjects and won international renown. In every decade since its founding, the University has produced outstan-ding science and scholarship, with the exception of the years between 1933 and 1945, when the National Socialists persecuted such illustrious figures as Ernst Cassirer, William Stern, and Albrecht Mendelsohn Bartholdy and sent an entire generation of young academics to the trenches.
Legendary in 1968 was his public exchange with the "student leader" Rudi Dutschke. Ralf Dahrendorf and student leader Rudi Dutschke met in November 1967 at a podium discussion in the Audimax.