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European Physical Society Recognizes City of Jena as “EPS Historic Site”


On 7 June 2021, the European Physical Society (EPS) awarded the honorary title of "EPS Historic Site" to an entire city for the first time.

Bad Honnef, Jena, Germany, 10 June 2021 – "Since modern times, Jena has had an extraordinarily high density of historic buildings that are of vital importance for physics and astronomy," says Lutz Schröter, President of the German Physical Society (DPG): "That is why we have been keen to designate the entire city as an historic site." This act is itself historic in the truest sense of the word, because until now the EPS has only honoured individual research facilities, laboratories or scientific institutes; in Germany, for example, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Berlin, the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, the former Institute of Physics in Würzburg, the former laboratories of the Heidelberg scientists Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (1824 to 1887) and Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811 to 1899), the former Institute of Physics at the University of Frankfurt, and the RWTH Aachen.

"The History of Science in Jena starts in 1548 with the Collegium Jenense, the oldest University building still in use today, then with the practical astronomy connected to the construction of the Jena observatory. " recalls Luc Bergé, President of the European Physical Society. "In parallel, Jena is the 'City of Light' imprinted with the discovery of the UV radiation by Johann Ritter, then by the microscope theory developed by Ernst Abbe who was moreover employed by Carl Zeiss Company. Carl Zeiss, Schott, Jenoptik … all are distinct examples of fruitful and early cooperation between academic science and the industrial sector, demonstrating that the EPS Historic Site distinction cannot be attributed to one particular building. Therefore, the City of Jena is recognised as an EPS Historic Site as a whole."

"Since the early modern period, physics and astronomy in Jena have played an important part in the formation and consolidation of scientific modernity. Particularly noteworthy are the city´s contributions to optics, gravitational theory, and solid-state physics, which were developed in close cooperation with scientific instrument makers and other scientific disciplines," reads the text on the honorary plaque that was unveiled at the entrance to the main physics building at Max-Wien-Platz 1 on Monday, 7 June 2021.

A "physics travel guide" helps track down the historic sites

"The award for Jena recognises the very special local culture of innovation," says Christian Forstner, who heads the DPG Division History of Physics. "Starting with the `Kaiserreich´, this has outlasted all systems and is still decisive for the successes of the science location today."

Forstner, who currently teaches as a Heisenberg Fellow at the University of Jena, initiated the city's application. To help visitors to Jena learn about the history of physics at the site, a "Physics Travel Guide" was published to coincide with the award ceremony, bringing together a selection of the historic sites. In addition to the central commemorative plaque, the relevant buildings were provided with a QR code so that visitors can obtain information directly on site.

The entire spectrum of physics in Jena

The series of historic sites begins with the Collegium Jenense, the university's founding site, and continues all the way through the observatory in the `Schillergasse´. The focus is, of course, on optics with, among others, the `Hellfeldsches´ House in the `Neugasse´, where Ernst Abbe founded his microscope theory, as well as buildings of Jena physics on `Helmholtzweg´ and `Fröbelstieg´. Furthermore, solid state physics has a long tradition in Jena as well as theoretical physics, for example with its contributions to gravitational physics.