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Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics

Picture of Hertha Sponer

Hertha Sponer

1895 - 1968

Additional Information

Some Important Contributions

Sponer did extensive, mainly experimental, work on the application of modern quantum mechanics to atomic and molecular physics.

Her atomic physics research covered a variety of topics, such as electron impact, mean free path and spectroscopic studies.

Her later work on molecular physics involved study of dissociation and excitation potential, and of the spectra and structure of polyatomic molecules, and their relation to chemical problems. Her work on the lattice energy of CO2 with Bruch-Willstadter was a significant contribution to the theory.

Probably her most lasting contribution to the field was the publication of comprehensive books MolekulSpektren which gave a complete tabulation of the key features of all molecula spectra known at the time.

Some Important Publications

"Inelastic Impacts of Electrons with Mercury Atoms," Zeits. f. Physik, 7.3: 185 (1921).

"Free Paths of Slow Electrons in Mercury and Cadmium," Zeits. f. Physik, 18.5: 249 (1923).

"The Series Spectra of Lead and Tin," Zeits. f. Physik, 32.1: 19 (1925).

"Stimulation Potential of Band-Spectrum of Nitrogen," Zeits. f. Physik, 34.8: 622 (1925).

"Heat of Dissociation Of Non-Polar Molecules," Phys. Rev. 28: 259 (1926) with R. Birge.

"Nitrogen Absorbtion Bands," Zeits. f. Physik, 41.8-9: 611 (1927).

"Molecular Absorbtion Bands ... in Ultra-Violet, I, II," I Zeits. f. Physik, 63: 334 (1930), and II Zeits. f. Physik, 79: 170 (1932) with H. Cordes.

"Predissociation Spectra of Triatomic Molecules," Zeits. f. Physik pp. 18: 88 (1932) with J. Franck and E. Teller.

"Lattice Energy of Solid CO2," J.Chem.. Phys. 5: 745 (1937) with M. Bruch-Willstatter.

"Analysis of near U.V. Electronic Transition of Benzene," J.Chem.. Phys. 7: 207 (1939) with L. Nordheim, A.L.Sklar, and E. Teller.

"On the Application of the Franck-Condon Principle to the Absorbtion Spectrum of HgCl2," J.Chem.. Phys. 7: 382 (1939)


MolekulSpektren I and II , Springer Verlag 1935 and 1936.


1925-26 Rockefeller Foundation Fellow.

1952-53 Guggenheim Fellow.

Fellow, New York Academy of Sciences.

Fellow, Optical Society of America.

Fellow, American Physical Society.


1921-25 Assistant, Physics Institute, Göttingen
1925-32 Privat Docent, Göttingen University
1932-34 Professor extraordinarius of Physics; Göttingen University
1934-36 Visiting Professor, Oslo University
1936-66 Professor, Duke University
1966-68 Professor Emeritus, Duke University


Ph.D Göttingen University 1920

References consulted

[1 CLH], [6C AMS], [7 MWR1], [26 SBM], [40 NYT]

Additional Information/Comments

Was Assistant to James Franck in Goettingen.

Was dismissed from her post as professor extraordinarius in the University of Goettingen in 1934 after Hitler came to power not because she was a non-Aryan but because she was a woman. [Letter dated February 27, 1934 from Marion Hines, Department of Anatomy of Johns Hopkins University, to Dr. Kathryn McHale, Director of American Association of University Women. Courtesy Duke University Archives]

On the occasion of her appointment to the faculty of Duke University, Robert A. Millikan wrote a letter to the President of the University on the inadvisability of appointing a woman to the physics faculty.[7 MWR1]

Married James Franck in 1946.

Field Editor: Professor Steven A. Mozkowski


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