Walther Wilhelm Georg Bothe

Throughout the years, there had been hundreds of brilliant minds toiling away and making breakthroughs in the field of physics. One such man was Walther Wilhelm Georg Booth, a German nuclear physicist. He was so brilliant and his work was so revolutionary that in 1954, he won and shared physics Nobel Prize with Max Born. He was quite the genius and he managed to accomplish a lot of things in the world of physics despite an illness which prevented him from doing certain things.

His Life and Career

Walther Booth was born on the 8th of January, 1891 to Charlotte Hartung and Fredrich Bothe. He was from Oranienberg, a place close to Berlin. Growing up he was a very bright boy. It was pretty obvious what his interests were because from 1908 to 1912 he was at the University of Berlin to study physics. While he was there, he learned from the brilliant Max Planck. He was a very good and driven student in the sense that he was able to get his doctorate degree before the war broke out in 1914. He got a job at Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt where he worked as a Professor Extraordinary from 1913 to 1930 which allowed him to stay in Berlin. He also became Professor of Physics as well as the Director of The Institute of Physics at the University of Giessen in the year 1930.


In 1934, he inherited the Director of Institute of Physics job at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research after Phillip Lenard left the job. By the time World War II had ended, the institute was used entirely for other purposes. Sensing that he was no longer needed for the new purpose, Bothe decided to return to the Physics Department in the University of Giessen. He held a teaching job until he had to cut back on the scope of his work because of an illness that had hampered him for a long time. It might have limited his scope of work but that didn’t mean he had plenty of downtime because he still made it a point to supervise work conducted at the Max Planck Institute’s Institute of Physics. He was awarded that Nobel Prize in 1954 but he was unable to get it himself since he was sidelined by his illness which turned out to be a circulatory disease. He continued his supervisory work until he died on the 8th of February, 1957 in Heidelberg.

High Points of His Career and Life

The work of Walther Bothe coincided at a time when there was a big boom in the massive field of nuclear physics and it has to be said that all his hard work and discoveries led to ground-breaking methods and new outlooks.

During World War I, he was taken captive by the Russians and was forced to spend time in Siberia during his captivity. Being the consummate scientist, he chose to spend that one year of captivity by learning how to speak and read Russian and studying maths. He didn’t stay there long since he was sent back to Germany in 1920, a year after he was taken captive.

Bothe and Geiger

After his stay in Siberia, he took the job offer at Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt in Berlin. While he was there, he collaborated with H. Geiger (of Geiger counter fame). It was from the year 1923 to 1926 that he concentrated much of his work on the theory of light (theoretical and experimental). Together, Geiger and Bothe related the Compton Effect to the theory of Slater, Kramers, and Bohr and the results of their experiments and tests gave very strong support for the corpuscular light theory.

H.Geiger had a lot of influence in Bothe’s work. In 1924, Bothe talked about his cutting-edge method (that worked on the premise of coincidences) which allowed him to make many important discoveries. He stated that if a particle passed through a couple or more Geiger counters, the measured pulses that come from the counters would be very coincidental in timing. What followed is even more fascinating—the pulse from each counter would then be sent to a coincidence circuit which could measure pulses that had coincident times.

He perfected the method and it was so revolutionary and accurate that he even made use of it in his studies concerning the Compton Effect as well as other physics problems. Because of this partnership with Geiger, they managed to shed more light into ideas that were about the small angle scattering or rays of light. The summary of their work can be found published in 1926 and 33 in his Handbusch. In that study, Geiger and Bothe managed to establish the very foundations for modern methods that were developed simply to better analyse and understand the scatter process of light.

In 1927, he made other discoveries that were very important to the world of physics. In collaboration with Franz, he conducted studies focused on what happened to light elements when they were bombarded with alpha rays. He stated that the fission products such an action produced were then only seen as fiscillations. However, his work with Franz using a needle counter made it possible to count.

Other collaborations

Bothe had several other partners in his works and some of his partners are listed below:

• W. Kohlhorster in 1929 – Introducing an alternative method to be used for studying UV and cosmic rays.

• H. Becker in 1930 – Obtaining a never-before-seen form of radiation (this study led Sir James Chadwick to discover the neutron in 1932).

Personal Life

Bothe may have been a busy man but he did have a personal life. Despite his captivity in the hands of the Russians, he ended up marrying Barbara Below from Moscow and they had two children. He enjoyed vacationing in the mountains and would often come up with painted art works in a style all his own though he had a deep admiration for French impressionists. He was also a musician and he enjoyed listening to Beethoven and Bach.