Robert Döpel

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Georg Robert Döpel
Döpel,Robert 1935 Stuttgart.jpg
Robert Döpel, 1935 at Stuttgart
Born 3 December 1895
Neustadt, German Empire
Died December 2, 1982(1982-12-02) (aged 86)
Residence Germany
Citizenship Germany
Nationality German
Fields Nuclear Physics
Institutions Georg-August University of Göttingen
University of Würzburg
University of Leipzig
Technische Universität Ilmenau
Alma mater University of Leipzig
Friedrich Schiller University of Jena
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Doctoral advisor Dr. Wilhelm Wien
Other academic advisors Dr. Werner Heisenberg
Known for German nuclear energy project
Soviet atomic bomb project

Georg Robert Döpel (3 December 1895 in Neustadt – 2 December 1982 in Ilmenau) was a German experimental nuclear physicist. He was a participant in a group known as the "first Uranverein", which was spawned by a meeting conducted by the Reichserziehungsministerium, in April 1939, to discuss the potential of a sustained nuclear reaction. He worked under Werner Heisenberg at the University of Leipzig, and he conducted experiments on spherical layers of uranium oxide surrounded by heavy water. He was a contributor to the German nuclear energy project (Uranprojekt). In 1945, he was sent to Russia to work on the Soviet atomic bomb project. He returned to Germany in 1957, and he became professor of applied physics and director of the Institut für Angewandte Physik at the Hochschule für Elektrotechnik, now Technische Universität, in Ilmenau (Thuringia).


From 1919 to 1924, Döpel attended the University of Leipzig, the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). He received his doctorate, in 1924, under the Physics Nobel Laureate Wilhelm Wien at LMU.[1]


In Germany[edit]

After receipt of his doctorate, Döpel became Robert W. Pohl’s teaching assistant at the Georg-August University of Göttingen. He also worked with the Physics Nobel Laureate Johannes Stark on canal rays, at the private laboratory of Rudolf Freihern von Hirsch zu Planegg, just west of Munich.[2]

In 1929, Döpel became a teaching assistant at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, and in 1932 he became a privatdozent there.[1]

In 1939, Döpel became an extraordinarius professor at the University of Leipzig, where he was a colleague of Werner Heisenberg. At some point, Döpel succeeded Fritz Kirchner as professor of radiation physics.[1][3]

On 22 April 1939, after hearing a paper by Wilhelm Hanle on the use of uranium fission in a uranmaschine (uranium machine, i.e., nuclear reactor), Georg Joos, along with Hanle, notified Wilhelm Dames, at the Reichserziehungsministerium (REM, Reich Ministry of Education), of potential military applications of nuclear energy. Just seven days later, a group, organized by Dames, met at the REM to discuss the potential of a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Their Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kernphysik was known informally as the first Uranverein (Uranium Club) and included the physicists Walther Bothe, Wilhelm Hanle, his friend[4] Robert Döpel, Hans Geiger, Wolfgang Gentner, Gerhard Hoffmann, and Joos. Informal work began at the University of Göttingen by Joos, Hanle, and their colleague Reinhold Mannkopff. Their work was discontinued in August 1939, when the three were called to military training.

The second Uranverein began after the Heereswaffenamt (Army Ordnance Office) squeezed out the Reichsforschungsrat (Reich Research Council) of the Reichserziehungsministerium and started the formal German nuclear energy project. The first meeting was held on 16 September 1939.[5][6][7] A second meeting soon thereafter included Klaus Clusius, Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, Werner Heisenberg and Robert Döpel, his counterpart as an experimental physicist at the University of Leipzig. Here, Heisenberg was the director of the Department of Theoretical Physics until 1942.

In August 1940, Döpel showed the utility of using heavy water as a moderator in a research nuclear reactor (uranmaschine) together with his wife Klara. She had studied law and worked as a lawyer until 1933, when the Nazi regime prevailed. In 1934, she married Robert Döpel and changed her area of studies to physics, and she worked with him in Leipzig without wages.[8] They conducted experiments with a spherical geometry (hollow spheres) of uranium surrounded by heavy water. Trial L-I was done in August 1940, and L-II was conducted six months later. Results from trial L-IV, in the first half of 1942, indicated that the spherical geometry, with five metric tons of heavy water and 10 metric tons of metallic uranium, could sustain a fission reaction. So, "the Germans were the first physicists in the world, with their Leipzig pile L-IV, to achieve positive neutron production."[9] The results were set forth in an article by Döpel, Döpel’s wife, and W. Heisenberg.[10] The article was published at first in the Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte (Research Reports in Nuclear Physics), a classified internal reporting vehicle of the Uranverein.[11] 1942 was the year in which supervision of the Uranverein was transferred from the Heereswaffenamt to the Reichsforschungsrat.[12][13]

In June 1942, Döpel’s uranmaschine was destroyed by a low-speed detonation induced by hydrogen formation.[14][15] This was the first in a series of accidents that destroyed nuclear energy assemblies due to wrong hydrogen handling.[16] Already afore, a shift of the main works of Heisenberg towards the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Physik (after World War II the Max Planck Institute for Physics) in Berlin was decided. The Döpels didn’t follow him despite his wishes, and they retired thereby from the uranium project. This finished the work on this topic at Leipzig.

In a letter written in December 1943, Döpel recounted that air raids had destroyed 75% of Leipzig, including his institute. Air raids during that year had also burned down Döpel’s institute apartment and Heisenberg’s house in Leipzig. Sixteen months later, on April 6, 1945, just 32 days before the surrender of Germany, Klara was killed in an air raid, while she was working in the physics building.[8][17]

In Russia[edit]

Near the close of World War II, the Soviet Union sent special search teams into Germany to locate and deport German nuclear scientists or any others who could be of use to the Soviet atomic bomb project. The Russian Alsos teams were headed by NKVD Colonel General A. P. Zavenyagin and staffed with numerous scientists, from their only nuclear laboratory, attired in NKVD officer’s uniforms. The main search team, headed by Colonel General Zavenyagin, arrived in Berlin on 3 May, the day after Russia announced the fall of Berlin to their military forces; it included Colonel General V. A. Makhnjov, and nuclear physicists Yulij Borisovich Khariton, Isaak Konstantinovich Kikoin, and Lev Andreevich Artsimovich. Döpel was sent to the Soviet Union to work on their atomic bomb effort. At first, he worked at the Nauchno-Issledovatel’skij Institut-9 (NII-9, Scientific Research Institute No. 9), in Moscow. There, he worked with Max Volmer on the production of heavy water.[18][19][20] In 1952, he became a regular professor of experimental physics at the university of Woronesh. 1954 he married the Ukrainian Sinaida Fedorowna Trunowna, widow of a soviet officer that had died in World War II.

Back in Germany[edit]

Döpel returned to Germany in 1957, together with his wife. He became professor of applied physics and director of the Institut für Angewandte Physik (Institute for Applied Physics) at the Hochschule für Elektrotechnik (today the Technische Universität) Ilmenau. There, he conducted spectral analysis of the mechanism of electric discharges in gases.[21][22]

Later on, he was engaged in energetics in connection with waste heat and global warming problems.[23][24] With his zero-dimensional climate model, he estimated global warming contributions from waste heat for coming centuries which have been confirmed meanwhile by more refined model calculations.[25] He died in Ilmenau in 1982. In honour to his 100th birthday in 1995, there were solemn colloquia at the Universities of Ilmenau and of Leipzig.[26]

Internal reports[edit]

The following reports were published in Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte (Research Reports in Nuclear Physics), an internal publication of the German Uranverein. The reports were classified top secret, they had very limited distribution, and the authors were not allowed to keep copies. The reports were confiscated under the Allied Operation Alsos and sent to the United States Atomic Energy Commission for evaluation. In 1971, the reports were declassified and returned to Germany. The reports are available at the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center and the American Institute of Physics.[27][28]

  • Robert Döpel, K. Döpel, and Werner Heisenberg Bestimmung der Diffusionslänge thermischer Neutronen in Präparat 38[29] (5 December 1940). G-22.[28]
  • Robert Döpel, K. Döpel, and Werner Heisenberg Bestimmung der Diffusionslänge thermischer Neutronen in schwerem Wasser (7 August 1940). G-23.[28]
  • Robert Döpel, K. Döpel, and Werner Heisenberg Versuche mit Schichtenanordnungen von D2O und 38 (28 October 1941). G-75.[30]
  • Robert Döpel Bericht über Unfälle beim Umgang mit Uranmetall (9 July 1942). G-135.[31]
  • Robert Döpel, K. Döpel, and Werner Heisenberg Der experimentelle Nachweis der effektiven Neutronenvermehrung in einem Kugel-Schichten-System aus D2O und Uran-Metall (July 1942). G-136.[31]
  • Robert Döpel, K. Döpel, and Werner Heisenberg Die Neutronenvermehrung in einem D2O-38-Metallschichtensystem (March 1942). G-373.[32]

Selected literature[edit]

  • Robert Döpel Elektromagnetische Analyse von Kanalstrahlen, Annalen der Physik Volume 381, Number 1, 1-28 (1925)
  • Robert Döpel Über den selektiven Photoeffekt am Strontium, Zeitschrift für Physik Volume 33, Number 1, 237-245 (December, 1925). The author was identified as being at the I. physikalisches Institut der Universität, Göttingen. The article was received on 3 June 1925.
  • Robert Döpel Kernprozesse bei der mittleren Korpuskularenergie von Sternzentren, Naturwissenschaften Volume 24, Number 15, 237- (April, 1936)


  • Robert Döpel Kanalstrahlröhren als Ionenquellen (Akademie-Verlag Berlin, 1958)
  • Werner Heisenberg, Robert Döpel, Wilhelm Hanle, and Käthe Mitzenheim Werner Heisenberg in Leipzig 1927-1942 (C. Kleint and G. Wiemers [Eds.]: Abhandlungen der sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Mathemat.-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse; Vol. 58/2, Akademie-Verlag Berlin 1993. Pocketbook: Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 1993)


  • Arnold, Heinrich: Robert Döpel and his Model of Global Warming. An Early Warning – and its Update.” (2013) online. 1st ed.: Robert Döpel und sein Modell der globalen Erwärmung. Eine frühe Warnung - und die Aktualisierung. Universitätsverlag Ilmenau 2009, ISBN 978-3-939473-50-3
  • Arnold,Heinrich, Global Warming by Anthropogenic Heat, a Main Problem of Fusion Techniques. [1] 2016-07-13 (Digitale Bibiliothek Thueringen)
  • Hentschel, Klaus (editor) and Ann M. Hentschel (editorial assistant and translator) Physics and National Socialism: An Anthology of Primary Sources (Birkhäuser, 1996) ISBN 0-8176-5312-0
  • Kant, Horst Werner Heisenberg and the German Uranium Project / Otto Hahn and the Declarations of Mainau and Göttingen, Preprint 203 (Max-Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 2002)
  • Kruglov, Akadii The History of the Soviet Atomic Industry (Taylor and Francis, 2002)
  • Maddrell, Paul Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945–1961 (Oxford, 2006) ISBN 0-19-926750-2
  • Macrakis, Kristie Surviving the Swastika: Scientific Research in Nazi Germany (Oxford, 1993)
  • Oleynikov, Pavel V. German Scientists in the Soviet Atomic Project, The Nonproliferation Review Volume 7, Number 2, 1 – 30 (2000). The author has been a group leader at the Institute of Technical Physics of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in Snezhinsk (Chelyabinsk-70).
  • Riehl, Nikolaus and Frederick Seitz Stalin’s Captive: Nikolaus Riehl and the Soviet Race for the Bomb (American Chemical Society and the Chemical Heritage Foundations, 1996) ISBN 0-8412-3310-1.
  • Walker, Mark German National Socialism and the Quest for Nuclear Power 1939–1949 (Cambridge, 1993) ISBN 0-521-43804-7


  1. ^ a b c Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, Appendix F; see the entry for Döpel.
  2. ^ Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, 51 and Appendix F; see the entry for Döpel.
  3. ^ David C. Cassidy Uncertaintin: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg 428 (Freeman, 1992).
  4. ^ W. Hanle: Langjährige Freundschaft mit Robert Döpel. In: C. Kleint and G. Wiemers (Eds.), Werner Heisenberg in Leipzig 1927-1942, Wiley-VCH Weinheim 1993.
  5. ^ Kant, 2002, Reference 8 on p. 3.
  6. ^ Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, 363-364 and Appendix F; see the entries for Döpel and Joos.
  7. ^ Macrakis, 1993, 164.
  8. ^ a b Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, Appendix F; see the entry for Klara Döpel. See also Arnold 2013.
  9. ^ Irving, D. J. C., The Virus House. London 1967. Paperback (with the text unchanged): The German Atomic Bomb. The History of Nuclear Research in Nazi Germany. New York 1983.
  10. ^ R. Döpel, K. Döpel and W. Heisenberg: Der experimentelle Nachweis der effektiven Neutronenvermehrung in einem Kugel-Schichten-System aus D2O und Uran-Metall. In: Werner Heisenberg: Collected Works Bd. A II (Eds. W. Blum et al., Springer-Verl., Berlin 1989, S. 536-544. Online: Research report 1942.
  11. ^ G-136 (July 1942), as cited in Walker, 1993, 272.
  12. ^ Walker, 1993, 27, 39-40, and 84-85.
  13. ^ Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, Appendix B; see the entry for the Heereswaffenamt.
  14. ^ Döpel, R., Bericht über zwei Unfälle beim Umgang mit Uranmetall. (II. Entzündung von Uran beim Öffnen eines Uranbehälters.) In: C. Kleint and G. Wiemers (Editors), Werner Heisenberg in Leipzig 1927-1942, Abhandlungen d. Sächsischen Akademie d. Wissenschaften zu Leipzig 58 (1993 H. 2) (and: Pocketbook Weinheim 1993) p. 62-67. Facsimile: (see “Forschungszentren/Leipzig/unfaelle” 1941 and 1942).
  15. ^ Steffler, R., Der erste Feuerwehreinsatz an einer Uranmaschine. Leipzig-Mockrehna 2010. ISBN 978-3-940541-23-9
  16. ^ The two most important disasters have been additionally treated with their firefighters aspects by: Steffler, R., Reaktorunfälle und die Handlungen der Feuerwehr: Leipzig, Tschernobyl und Fukushima - eine erste Analyse. Elbe-Dnjepr-Verlag, Leipzig-Mockrehna 2011. ISBN 3-940541-33-8. - In Tchernobyl (1986), there occurred water gas (containing hydrogen)as an explosive from the moderator graphite. The oxyhydrogen explosions that have destroyed reactor buildings and equipment in the course of nuclear disasters in Fukushima (2011) could have been avoided by Swiss technical facility.
  17. ^ Walker, 1993, 125 and 134.
  18. ^ Oleynikov, 2000, 5-6 and 10.
  19. ^ Riehl and Seitz, 1996, 80-82.
  20. ^ Kruglov, 2002, 131 and 167.
  21. ^ Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, 58.
  22. ^ Maddrell, 2006, 162-163.
  23. ^ Robert Döpel: Über die geophysikalische Schranke der industriellen Energieerzeugung. Wissenschaftl. Zeitschrift der Technischen Hochschule Ilmenau, ISSN 0043-6917, Bd. 19 (1973, H.2), 37-52. online.
  24. ^ Arnold, 2013.
  25. ^ E. J. Chaisson: Long-Term Global Heating from Energy Usage. EOS. The Newspaper of the Geophysical Sciences 89, No. 28 (July 2008) p. 253-260.
  26. ^ Arnold 2009 and 2013.
  27. ^ Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, Appendix E; see the entry for Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte.
  28. ^ a b c Walker, 1993, 268.
  29. ^ Präparat 38 was the cover name for uranium oxide; see Deutsches Museum.
  30. ^ Walker, 1993, 270.
  31. ^ a b Walker, 1993, 272.
  32. ^ Walker, 1993, 274.