• Biography

Hedwig Kohn was known as a German-American physicist. She is most famous for being one of only three women to obtain a profession in physics in Germany before World War II. She was Jewish and forced out of Germany by Nazi forces.


Background and Education

Hedwig Kohn was born on April 5, 1887 in Breslau. She was the little girl of Georg Kohn, a discount dealer of fine fabric and Helene Hancke, a member of an entrenched Breslau family. Hedwig entered the college there as an inspector in 1907, a year prior to when ladies were authoritatively permitted to register. She acquired a doctorate in material science in 1913.

During World War I she took on a large load of educating doctoral understudies regardless of her youth and inexperience. She won an award for this administration after the war. She stayed in Breslau and, following quite a while of educating and research, was given the Habilitation at the college there in 1930. By 1940, she had guided the education of eight doctoral understudies.


In 1933, she was expelled from her college position since she was Jewish. In 1935, American financing permitted her a three-month stay in the Licht-Klimatisches Observatorium in Arosa, Switzerland. She was there to measure ultra-violet light power from the sun. She bounced around with temp jobs. Without a permanent spot, she couldn't escape from Nazi Germany quickly.

After 1938, to acquire a visa for the U.S. to work in a teaching position, the applicant needed at least two years of experience. Since she had been banned from instructing since 1933, such a visa was unattainable for her. Luckily, this limitation was dropped in 1940.

Personal Life


After retirement, Kohn had the ability to pursue independent research as a Research Associate at Duke University for twelve additional years, until her passing in 1964. During this time, she directed the exploration of two Ph.D. understudies and selected two postdoctoral colleagues to work with her on flame spectroscopy. This exploration, a continuation of what she had done from 1912– 1933, encountered a renaissance during the 1960s in the structure of combustion science and plasma physics science.

She wrote a few sections, adding up to more than two hundred pages, in a leading science text book, Mueller-Pouillets Lehrbuch der Physik, 1929. These turned into the premise of her Habilitation. The paper revealing her doctoral work being referred to through the 1970s.

Date modified: Aug 9, 2020
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