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Foundation of the International Victor Franz Hess Society

The author and physicist Peter Maria Schuster (www.petermschuster.at), together with a group of university professors of physics, established the association Victor Franz Hess Society in Graz, Austria, in 2007. Named after the Austrian winner of the 1936 Nobel Prize for Physics, the association has been formed for the purpose of making known the life and works of  the scientist Victor Franz Hess (1883–1964) to a wide public within national and international range. Moreover, the Society will be devoted to Austria’s unique traditions and achievements in Natural Science and Technology and will take these under their charge and care to promulgate them under the title of Victor Franz Hess Society throughout the world.

Victor Franz (Francis) Hess (1883-1964)

Hess was born in the Austrian province of Styria, he received his entire education in Graz and took his doctor’s degree at Graz University in 1910. In 1912, his discovery of the ‘cosmic radiation’, which would make him a Nobel laureate, was performed at the Institute of Radium Research of the Vienna Academy of Sciences, where he taught and researched as a physicist during 10 years of his Vienna period which lasted altogether 14 years. Through his pioneering physical experimental setups during hot-air balloon flights which rode him up to altitudes as high as 5350 m, Hess found out that the ionization of the atmospheric air is increasing with altitude and proved that the ionizing radiation is of extraterrestrial nature. The related research works were carried on during another two decades before it was understood that, instead of being a radiation itself, the ionization of the air is due to its being bombarded with fast particles of matter of incomparably high energies. During many years after the discovery of the ‘cosmic radiation’ by Hess, this kind of ‘celestial drumfire’, the origin of which keeps being an incomprehensible problem until today, was giving to scientists the only chance to study the interactions of elementary particles and to discover new particles. For the first time, a direct way had opened to get accessed the products from the nuclear reactions that are involved in stellar evolution, that is the genesis of the chemical elements.

In Innsbruck, Tyrol, Hess continued his important research work on ‘cosmic radiation’ for six years. For this purpose he founded the station at the Hafelekar summit (2300 m) near Innsbruck. After the ‘Anschluss’—the Nazi union with Austria—in 1938, Hess was arrested in Graz, because he refused to accept National Socialism “for political and for religious reasons”. He could escape, immigrated to the USA and accepted the full professorship which was offered to him at Fordham University in New York. He became a US citizen as Victor Francis Hess in 1944.

Austrian and internationally renowned scientists have expressed their willingness to join the new Victor Franz Hess Society and to sustain the Society activities as counsellors in a scientific board.

The objectives of the Victor Franz Hess Society are considered to be realized by:

holding symposia and congresses;
publications, documentations as well as public relation activities;
scientific research projects;
setting up a ‘Victor Franz Hess Historic Collection’ of world-wide renown that includes historic and original physical equipment and demonstration apparatuses as well as literature and manuscripts from the long tradition of physics in the Austrian Empire;
recurring ‘Victor Franz Hess Exposition’ and ‘Victor Franz Hess Award’;
establishing a ‘Victor Franz Hess Memorial Centre’ both in his native province Styria, Austria, and at his dying place Mt. Vernon, New York, USA;
working up the heritage of Victor Francis Hess in the USA.

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