I remember from my quantum course that the first person (I believe in 1927) to show that helium has a bound state, using the variational principle, was a nazi. It was remarked by my professors that he was essentially blotted out the history books, despite this approximation of the ground state energy of helium being one of the first calculations in quantum mechanics that couldn't be done classically.

What was his name? I feel like he was blotted from Google as well...

Edit: It is possible that this person used perturbation theory, rather than the variational principle. Sakurai cites Albrecht Unsöld as the first to perform the calculation.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you sure it was helium? $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 7:47

1 Answer 1


The publication in question is: Georg W. Kellner, "Die Ionisierungsspannung des Heliums nach der Schrödingerschen Theorie." Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 44, Nos. 1-2, Jul. 1927, pp. 91-109 (scan). This publication has 140 citations according to Google Scholar, so it has not exactly been neglected.

This publication was the first to employ the variational method of Ritz, which lead to mathematical results that were much closer to experimental measurements when compared to the simple first-order perturbation method used by Unsöld 1, whom Kellner cites. It should be noted that at the same time as Kellner, J. C. Slater computed an accurate result using a non-variational method 2. Using the same variational method of Ritz used by Kellner and by including higher-order terms, Hylleraas was able to eliminate the gap between computational results and experimental measurements by 1930 3,4,5.

I was able to extract biographical information on Kellner from his second Ph.D. dissertation (in political science) by piecing together many Google snippets.

Georg Wolfgang Kellner, Sozialpolitik und Antikonjunkturpolitik: Untersuchungen über Möglichkeiten zur Stabilisierung der Wirtschaft und der Arbeit. Gießen: Otto Kindt 1934, 76 pp.

Biographical summary: Born February 1, 1905 in Wetzlar. Graduated high school in Gießen Easter 1923. From Easter 1923 to fall of 1927 studied mathematics and physics at the University of Berlin. Received his Ph.D. on October 11, 1927 with a disseration entitled "Die Ionisierungsspannung des Heliums nach der Schrödingerschen Theorie". Worked as an assistant at the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Berlin from November 1927 to April 1931. From May 1931 through December 1932 worked on a research project in theoretical physics, mostly at the University of Leipzig. Moved to his home town of Wetzlar in September of 1932. Studied political science at the University of Gießen and received his Ph.D. in July 1933. Since September 1933 employed by Ernst Leitz GmbH, a manufacturer of optical products.

I have not found any evidence that Kellner was a Nazi. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: Given that the Nazi party ultimately counted some eight million members, it is certainly possible that he was a party member. It seems likewise possible that someone confused him with Dr. Dr. Walter Kellner (1906-1963), who was in charge of the "Jewish Library" at RHSA from 1939 on.

I have also been able to trace Kellner's membership in the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG; German Physical Society) from member directories published annually. He became a member in 1926, nominated by Max von Laue. Verhandlungen der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft. 3rd series, Vol. 7, No. 2, Jul. 1926, p. 36:

Als Mitglieder wurden in die Gesellschaft aufgenommen:
Hr. stud. phil. WOLFGANG GEORG KELLNER, Berlin-Dahlem, Hittorfstr. 29 (Vorgeschlagen durch Hrn. M v. LAUE)

Two things are curious about this brief notice. Kellner appeared as G. W. Kellner, Georg W. Kellner, and Georg Wolfgang Kellner in publications, but here his names are reversed. Interesting is also that his academic status is stated as stud. phil. rather than cand. phil., although he seems to have been within one year of receiving his Ph.D. His status as a student of von Laue is mentioned in this publication:

S. Esposito and A. Naddeo, "Majorana Solutions to the Two-Electron Problem", Foundation of Physics, Vol. 42, 2012, pp. 1586–1608:

Such a novel method came into the play a bit earlier by means of G.W. Kellner, a student of M. von Laue in Berlin, who introduced for the first time the variational Ritz method in order to estimate the ground state energy of the helium atom.

Based on the DPG member directories, Kellner resided in Berlin until some time in 1931, is listed as residing in Leipzig in 1932 and 1933, and then took up residence in Wetzlar, a small town in Hesse, where he is listed for the years 1934 and 1935. I could find no later trace of him.

There is a group picture that shows Georg W. Kellner next to Heisenberg, Bloch, and other colleagues at the Physikalisches Institut der Universität Leipzig, taken around 1931, on p. 36 of Journal Universität Leipzig, No. 5 / 2005. Heisenberg ran the Institute of Physics at Leipzig University from 1927 to 1942; based on the presence of Bloch the picture more likely dates to 1932.

I have not been able to establish Kellner's Ph.D. advisor with certainty. In his 1927 publication based on his Ph.D. dissertation he thanks von Laue, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, and others, but he does not mention von Laue being his advisor. Based on information in David C Clary, Schrödinger in Oxford, WSPC 2022, he may have been associated with Max Born at that time. In the context of the fifth Solvay Conference of 1927,

Born pointed out that Kellner in his research group had extended Schrödinger’s theory in an approximate way to the helium atom.

1 Albrecht Unsöld, "Beiträge zur Quantenmechanik der Atome", Annalen der Physik, Vol. 387 (4th Series, Vol. 82), No. 3, Feb. 1927, pp. 355-393 (scan)

2 J. C. Slater, "The Structure of the Helium Atom: I", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 13, No. 6, Jun. 1927, pp. 423-430 (scan)

3 Egil A. Hylleraas, "Über den Grundzustand des Heliumatoms." Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 48, Nos. 7-8, 1928, pp. 469-494 (scan)

4 Egil A. Hylleraas, "Neue Berechnung der Energie des Heliums im Grundzustande, sowie des tiefsten Terms von Ortho-Helium", Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 54, Nos. 5-6, May 1929, pp. 347–366 (scan)

5 Egil A. Hylleraas and Bjarne Undheim, "Numerische Berechnung der 2 $S$-Terme von Ortho- und Par-Helium." Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 65, Nos. 11-12, Nov. 1930, pp. 759-772 (scan)

List of Kellner's publications:

G. W. Kellner, "Die Ionisierungsspannung des Heliums nach der Schrödingerschen Theorie." Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 44, Nos. 1-2, Jul. 1927, pp. 91-109 (scan)

G. W. Kellner, "Der Grundterm des einfach ionisierten Lithiums nach der Schrödingerschen Theorie". Zeitschrift für Physik. Vol. 44, Nos. 1-2, Jul. 1927, pp. 110-112 (scan)

G. W. Kellner, "Die Ionisierungsspannung des Heliums nach der Schrödingerschen Theorie." Naturwissenschaften, Vol. 15, No. 27, Jul. 1927, p. 561 (letter to the editor) (scan)

G. W. Kellner, "Die Kausalität in der Quantenmechanik." Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 55, No. 1, Jan. 1929, pp. 44-51

G. W. Kellner, "Die Kausalität in der Quantenmechanik II." Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 59, Nos. 11-12, Nov. 1930, pp. 820-835

G. W. Kellner, "Zwei Bemerkungen zu meiner Arbeit „Die Kausalität in der Quantenmechanik II“." Zeitschrift für Physik, Vol. 64, Nos. 1-2, Jan. 1930, pp. 147-150

G. W. Kellner, "Die Ionisierungsspannungen von Atomkonfigurationen mit 2 Elektronen." Naturwissenschaften, Vol. 18, No. 4, Jan. 1930, p. 86 (letter to the editor)

G. W. Kellner, "Die Kausalität in der Physik." Zeitschrift für Physik. Vol. 64, Nos. 7-8, Jul. 1930, pp. 568-580

G. W. Kellner, Sozialpolitik und Antikonjunkturpolitik: Untersuchungen über Möglichkeiten zur Stabilisierung der Wirtschaft und der Arbeit. Gießen: Otto Kindt 1934, 76 pp.

Kellner's biographical summary, pieced together from Google snippets of his 1934 Ph.D. dissertation. The formatting is mine, and there may be OCR errors.

Ich, der unterzeichnete Georg Wolfgang Kellner, wurde am 1. Februar 1905 als Sohn des Bankherrn Otto Kellner in Wetzlar und seiner Ehefrau Hermine Kellner, geb. Spamer, geboren. Ich besuchte von Ostern 1911 bis Ostern 1914 das Städtische Lyzeum in Wetzlar, von Ostern 1914 bis Ostern 1921 das staatliche humanistische Gymnasium in Wetzlar und von Ostern 1921 bis Ostern 1923 das Realgymnasium in Gießen, das ich mit dem Reifezeugnis verließ.

Ich studierte von Ostern 1923 bis Herbst 1927 an der Universität Berlin Mathematik und Physik und promovierte dort am 11. Oktober 1927 auf Grund einer Dissertation mit dem mit dem Titel: "Die Ionisierungsspannung des Heliums nach der Schrödingerschen Theorie". Vom 1. November 1927 bis 30. April 1931 war ich Assistent am Institut für theoretische Physik der Universität Berlin.

Vom 1. Mai 1931 bis zum 31. Dezember 1932 bearbeitete ich, hauptsächlich an der Universität Leipzig, auf Grund eines Forschungsstipendiums der Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft eine Aufgabe aus dem Gebiete der theoretischen Physik, siedelte jedoch schon im September 1932 nach meiner Heimat Wetzlar über.

Im Wintersemester 1932/33 belegte ich als Gasthörer an der Universität Gießen Vorlesungen und Übungen bei den Herren Prof. Lenz, Mombert, Günther, Stoltenberg,sowie bei Herrn Regierungsrat Dr. Bues und bei Frau Dr. v . Reichenau. Seit Ende Januar 1933 war ich neben den Vorlesungen und während der Ferien bis Ende April 1933 informatorisch am Arbeitsamt in Wetzlar tätig.

Ich entschloß mich sodann, mich am Ende des Sommersemesters 1933 in Gießen zur Promotion zum Dr. rer. pol. zu melden und ließ mich darum an der Universität Gießen immatrikulieren. Ich belegte Vorlesungen und Übungen bei den Herren Prof. Gmelin, Bötticher, Günther, Mombert und Auler.

Nach Ablegung der Promotionsprüfungen war ich von Anfang August bis Mitte September 1933 nochmals am Arbeitsamt in Wetzlar tätig und bin seit dieser Zeit bei der Fa. Ernst Leitz G.m.b.H., Optische Werke in Wetzlar, angestellt. Wetzlar, im Juli 1934. Dr. G. W. Kellner.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.