Physicist. Arnold Sommerfeld received world-wide notoriety as a German physicist, who had the ability to “discover and develop talents” in the scientific field, by teaching at University of Munich numerous students who went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics: Max von Laue in 1914, Werner Heisenberg in 1932, Peter Debyein in 1936, Israel Isaac Rabi in 1944, Wolfgang Pauli in 1945, Linus Pauling in 1954, Han Bethe in 1967. He was at the forefront of the work in electromagnetic theory, relativity and quantum theory. Dr. Sommerfield had the honor of being nominated 84 times for the Nobel Prize in Physics, which holds the record of the most nominations, yet never received this coveted award. Born Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld, he was the son of a physician in an area of Prussia that is now in Russia. He studied mathematics and science at Konigsberg's Albertina University, and while at the university, he received a long fencing scar on his forehead from clowning with a classmate with swords. Sommerfeld wrote his thesis, “The Arbitrary Functions in Mathematics Physics” and on October 24, 1891 received his doctoral from Königsberg. He accepted a unpaid post as an assistant at the University of Gottingen, where he could do research. To obtain a position with a salary in October of 1897, he taught at Clausthal, a mining academy, becoming a professor of mathematics, but still could do research at Gottingen and wed his fiancee. For more income, he accepted the position of editor of Volume V of “Encyclopedia of Mathematical Science,” which was a major undertaking, lasting from 1898 to 1926. This followed with a position at Aachen University of Applied Science in 1900. In 1906 he transferred to the University of Munich, where he supervised a large number of students, many in theoretical physics, but for others he directed them in programs of experimental research in a large laboratory. He enjoyed his work at Munich and his students had a great respect for him. He and Walter Kossel, the son of Nobel Prize 1910 recipient Albrecht Kossel, developed the Sommerfeld–Kossel displacement law , which “states that the first spark (singly ionized) spectrum of an element is similar in all details to the arc (neutral) spectrum of the element preceding it in the periodic table.” This was one of a host of scientific laws, theories, rules, or equations, which bears his name. His most important legacy was his research of the atomic spectra, which led him to suggest the electron move in elliptical obits as well as circular ones, as in the Bohr model of the atom. From this reasoning he postulated the azimuthal quantum number, and later introduced the magnetic quantum number as well. He did detailed research on wave mechanics, and his theory of electrons in metals proved valuable in the study of thermoelectricity and metallic conduction. In 1896 Sommerfeld co-authored a four-volume textbook project on the theory of gyroscopes. This would eventually be published between 1909 to 1910, the first two volumes dealing with the mathematical theory, while the final two volumes deal with applications to geophysics, astronomy and technology. From 1928 to 1929, he traveled the world and visited India, Japan, China, and the United States. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity was not yet widely accepted, until Sommerfeld’s mathematical contributions was added to the theory. World War II brought a turbulent time for him as many of his well-known Jewish colleagues were escaping the terrors of the Nazi Forces going to the United States, England, and other countries. The war destroyed their friendships as well as strong scientific strength in Germany. Although he had received the emeritus status from Munich on April 1, 1935, but with the shortage of professors, he felt obliged to teach until 1947, long after retirement age. Sources reason if he had left Germany before the war, he may have received the Nobel Prize, yet his highest number of nominations were done pre-war: Nine nominations in 1929, eight in 1933 and 1937, six in 1925. He was loyal to Germany, not the Nazi Party. He and his wife had four children. As he aged, he became nearly deaf. While walking near his home with his grandchildren, he did not hear the horn of a truck and was hit. A month later, he died of his injuries. Although he never received the Nobel Prize, he was awarded the Lorentz Gold Medal, the Planck Medal, and the Oersted Medal. He was elected to the Royal Society of London, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, and the Academies in Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Gottingen, Budapest, Sweden, Spain, Rome, Moscow, and India. He received four honorary degrees. In 2004, the center for theoretical physics at the University of Munich was named after him. Author Michael Eckert's 2013 biography, “Arnold Sommerfeld: Science, Life, and Turbulent Times 1868-1951” gives details of his life. Sommerfeld received three Nobel Prize nominations in 1951 before his death.
Bio by: Linda Davis