Otto Haxel


There were a lot of scientists who made their names during the Second World War, and a lot of them were involved in the field of physics and nuclear development. Because of the need for solutions for the problems then, there were a lot of chances for those who aspired to be known to make their marks and contributions. One of those scientists happened to be Otto Haxel, a nuclear physicist from Germany who had a hand in the German nuclear energy projects. Being a noted name in nuclear physics, he had been a member of the Nuclear Physics Working Group of the German Atomic Energy Commission, and like several other bright minds of those times, he also held academic positions which allowed him to share his knowledge in the field of nuclear physics.

Early Life and Educational Background

Otto Haxel was born on the 2nd of April in 1909 in Neu-Ulm in Bavaria, Germany. He had his education from the Technische Hochschule München, which is now known as the Technische Universität München, from 1927-1933. During those years, he also took courses from the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, and he was able to receive his doctorate in 1933. He was under Hans Geiger’s supervision for his doctorate, and Geiger had been known for the invention of the Geiger counter. Being under Geiger’s tutelage, he had taken the opportunity to be Geiger’s teaching assistant at the University of Tübingen from 1933 up to 1936. Because of his experience in the academic field, Haxel was able to complete his Habilitation in the year 1936.

Academic Career and Other Pursuits

Haxel’s academic affiliation with Geiger paved his way to become a notable figure in the academic scene back then as well. He was able to go to the Technische Hochschule Berlin and became one of the teaching assistants there after his Habilitation had been completed. In 1939, he became a lecturer at the same university. About a year later, Haxel met Fritz Houtermans, who was going to be one of his future collaborators. This meeting was made possible through Max von Laue because Houtermans had just been released from the Gestapo incarceration.

Otto Haxel had been one of the members of the Uranverein or the Uranium Club. This club was also known as the German nuclear energy project, and several of the greatest scientific minds of Germany had been recruited for their cause. From the years 1940 up to 1942, Haxel was a member of the Uranium club, and he had his specialty on studying neutron absorption properties that uranium had. After his time with the Uranium Club, he was called for military service in 1942. There, he was in charge of a group which was doing nuclear research. They were under Admiral Rhein of the German Navy—he had previously been a submarine commander.

From the years 1946 up to 1950, Haxel was the staff of Werner Heisenberg who was then at the Max-Planck Institu fur Physik. In 1949, he had been appointed as the supernumerary professor at the Georg-August-Universität in Gottingen. These years were spent in Gottingen and it was during his time there when he had his collaborative work with Houtermans. Houtermans was working at the II. Physikalischen Institut which was at the University of Gottingen when they did their collaborative work.

Another notable name Haxel had been affiliated with is J. Hans D. Jensen, who had been a scientist working in Heidelberg’s Institut für theoretische Physik, and Hans Suess from Hamburg’s Institut für physikalische Chemie. Together, their collaborative work had been on “magic numbers” and their development.

Haxel himself had been one of the ordinarius professors in Germany, and he was the ordinarius professor at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg for their physics department. He had also been the director of the Unversity of Heidelberg’s II. Physikalischen Institut. Apart from his scientific endeavors and contributions, he was able to contribute to the movement of environmental physics. This was made possible through his application of nuclear physics. Because of his development of environmental physics and other significant contributions, it led to the formation of the Institute of Environmental Physics, which is also known as the Institut für Umweltphysik. This was founded in 1975, and Karl-Otto Münnich had been the founding director.

Apart from being a member of the Uranium Club, Haxel had also played a part in other notable groups which were about science. From 1956 to 1957, he became a member of the Nuclear Physics Working Group also known as the Arbeitskreis Kernphysik which was under the Commission II “Research and Growth” or Fachkommission II, Forschung und Nachwuchs of the German Atomic Energy Commission. While he was a member of the Nuclear Physics working group, he was able to work alongside the chairman Werner Heisenberg and vice-chairman Hans Kopfermann.

From 1970 to 1975, he had been the Scientific and Technical Managing Director or wissenschaftlich-technischen Geschäftsführer of the Karlsruhe Research Center or Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe. He had also been a signatory of the Gottingen Eighteen manifesto.

His Latter Years

Because of his contributions for the nuclear energy industry, the Friends of the Karlsruhe Research Center was established and they award the Otto Haxel Prize to bright minds who have their own achievements in nuclear energy studies. Haxel himself had been awarded the Otto Hahn Prize of the City of Frankfurt am Main because of his work and dedication for channeling nuclear energy and understanding its production.

On a more personal note, Haxel’s friendship with Houtermans led to his very own marriage. Houtermans had four marriages. Houtermans had been married to Ilse Bartz, who was a chemical engineer and they worked together when they had to publish a paper. Ilse and Houtermans got divorced, however, and Haxel married her after she was divorced from Houtermans. Houtermans then remarried Charlotte Reifenstahl, who was a physicist, whom he married as his first wife. It can be said that because of his affiliation and friendship with Houtermans, it had been the way for him to have met his own wife.