The Nobel Prize in Physics 1911
Born: 13 January 1864, Gaffken, Prussia (now Parusnoye, Russia)
Died: 30 August 1928, Munich, Germany
Affiliation at the time of the award: Würzburg University, Würzburg, Germany
Prize motivation: “for his discoveries regarding the laws governing the radiation of heat”
Prize share: 1/1
Wilhelm Wien grew up in the east Prussian town of Rastenburg (today Kętrzyn, Lithuania). He then studied at the prominent universities of Heidelberg and Göttingen, before he eventually completed his doctorate in Berlin. In 1900 he succeeded W.C. Röntgen (1901 Physics Laureate) as a professor in Würzburg. Wien’s research concerned how various metals radiate heat, and he received the Nobel Prize for the law of black-body radiation, now known as Wien-Planck’s law. It was drawn up jointly with Max Planck (Physics, 1918) and many felt that they should have shared in the award.
When a completely dark body is heated, it emits visible light and other electromagnetic radiation. The spectrum of the radiation is entirely dependent on the temperature of the body and not its composition. In 1893 Wilhelm Wien formulated his displacement law, which indicates at which wavelength the radiation is most intense at a certain temperature. He subsequently also formulated a law indicating how the radiation spectrum varies as temperature changes. However, this does not apply to long wavelengths, and in 1900 Max Planck formulated a law that conforms better.