8 February: Tribute to Walther Bothe

OV Digital Desk
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Walther Bothe

Walther Bothe (8 January 1891 – 8 February 1957) was a German nuclear physicist. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 with Max Born.

Life and career

He was born on 8 January 1891, in Oranienburg, German Empire.

He studied under physics legend Max Planck and excelled in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. In 1913, he became Planck’s assistant. He got his doctorate in 1914, under Planck.

In 1913, he was offered a job at the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt. He served there as a ‘Professor Extraordinary’ until 1930.

In 1914, he joined the German cavalry. In 1915, he was captured by the Russians and imprisoned for 5 years. In 1920, he was released and returned to Germany.

His work was mainly focused on the scattering of alpha and beta rays and he devised a theory involving scattering at small angles.

In 1924, he and Hans Geiger performed an experiment. Together they formulated a new quantum theory of radiation. He published his coincidence method and used it to study nuclear reactions, the Compton Effect, and light waves.

In 1930, he became the director of the Institute of Physics at the University of Giessen. Also, in 1930, he discovered that beryllium emits strange radiation when bombarded with alpha particles. As a result of this discovery, James Chadwick later discovered the neutron in 1932.

In 1932, he was appointed director of the Physical and Radiological Institute at the University of Heidelberg.

Bothe was a leader in German nuclear research during World War II. In 1943, he designed and built Germany’s first cyclotron.

His most famous work is the ‘Coincidence Circuit’ which works on the coincidence principle.

He became the Ordentlicher Professor at the University of Heidelberg between 1946 and 1957.

He died on 8 February 1957, in Heidelberg, West Germany.


He was co-awarded the “Nobel Prize in Physics” in 1954, for his coincidence method and the discoveries made therewith, along with Max Born.

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