Ernst Ising

There are many great names in the field of Physics and one man that deserves to be lauded is Ernst Ising. This German physicist is most remembered for coming up with the Ising model that is considered as one of the standard models used for statistical physics. He was not only a brilliant physicist but he also happened to be a great teacher that helped hone many young and brilliant minds at Bradley University.

His Early Life

Ernst Ising was born in Cologne, Germany on 10 May 1900. His mother was Thekla Ising nee Lowe and his father was a merchant named Gustav Ising. His family stayed in Cologne for two years then moved to Bochum. This is where young Ernst spent most of his childhood. During Easter in 1907, he started school in Bochum and completed the Gymnasium in 1918. He had to stop schooling after that just so he could undergo military training but by a stroke of good fortune, World War I was over before he was ever sent on a mission. So a year after, on Easter in 1919, he went to the University of Gottingen where he studied physics and mathematics. He also continued studying at Hamburg and Bonn.


His Early Influences

It was in Hamburg where Ising met the physicist Wilhelm Lenz. He was the man who suggested that Ising could possibly turn his attention to theoretical physics. Under the tutelage of Lenz, Ising began his studies on a model of ferromagnetism in the year 1922, which eventually resulted in a dissertation. In 1924, the faculty of mathematics and natural sciences of Hamburg University accepted his dissertation. Another interesting person Ising met during his time in Hamburg was one Wolfgang Pauli – an Austrian physicist and one of the earliest pioneers of quantum physics. At the time, Pauli was at Hamburg University as he had just accepted a teaching position. Other famous personages Ising met at Hamburg University was Otto Stern – physicist and Nobel Laureate – and Walther Gerlach – another notable German physicist.

After Ising received his Ph.D., he moved to Berlin where he started work in the patent office of the AEG or the Allgemeine Elektrizitätsgesellschaft. It was a good job and he did stay for a good year but he got a feeling of dissatisfaction with the job itself and decided to pursue a career in teaching instead. He moved to the US where he worked as a teacher on a famous boarding school in Salem, near Lake Constance; he worked there for a year but went back to Berlin University in 1928 so he could begin studies on pedagogy and philosophy. Two years later, in 1930, he passed the state exams on higher education and got married on the same year. He and his wife moved to Strausberg where Ising once again got a teaching position at a school where he was a studienassessor – this was a title given to someone that holds a higher civil service post and has passed all the required examinations but is still on probation.

The Rise of Hitler

In January of 1933, Hitler came into power and in the blink of an eye, Jewish citizens in civil servant positions found themselves without jobs. Ernst Ising lost his job as a teacher and was unemployed for a year though he did held short jobs at a school for emigrant kids in Paris. In 1934, he got a new job as a teacher for Jewish children at a boarding school. It was located in Caputh which was very near Portdam and was founded by Gertrud Feiertag, who was a known progressive social educationalist. One interesting fact about this school and the position was that right next door was the summer house that belonged to one of the greatest minds of all time: Albert Einstein. When Einstein made his move to the USA in ’32, the school rented the said house to be used as additional classrooms. This meant the number of enrollees increased (also due to the fact that Jewish kids were being expelled from German public schools) and 5 years later, Ising was granted the headmaster position.

Leaving Europe

In 10 November 1938, the school where Ising worked was devastated, as part of a program to get rid of the Jewish people in Germany. In fact, in 27 January 1939, Ising was interrogated for 4 hours after he was taken by the Gestapo. He was only released after he promised that he and his wife were to depart from Germany. They travelled to Luxembourg where they would leave for the states but at that time the quota was full and so they had to stay at Luxembourg. They stayed in Luxembourg for some time and worked menial jobs as they struggled to survive.

It took two years after the war ended for Ernst and his wife to make the move to the US and in April 1947, they finally arrived in New York. He worked as a teacher at the State Teacher’s College for a year then moved on to become a Physics Professor at Bradley in 1948. His wife Jane also became a professor at the school. This was where he stayed until he retired in 1976. It wasn’t until the year 1953 that the US granted him citizenship, and then he changed his name to Ernest.

His Work and Legacy

As mentioned, he came up with the Ising model but he didn’t really fully realized how important it was until some years after he came up with it. Aside from his love for physics, his other great love was teaching and his students at Bradley recount his humor and his elaborate experiments in class. Ising himself has stated that no class is complete unless his students had laughed with him. He was a marvelous teacher and contributed a lot to the university though he never published another research paper again.

His Death

Ernest Ising lived in Peoria until he died in 1998. It was a day after he celebrated his 98th birthday. He was married to a German doctor he met in Berlin named Jane.