Search

Home > History > WE Frahn
History

WE Frahn

WE Frahn

Contact: Sally Knox; tel: 021 650 3340


In 1988 the physics and astrophysics departmental library on the top floor of the RW James Building was named the W.E. Frahn Library. On the wall is the following citation:

The W.E. Frahn Library

W.E. Frahn was a professor physics at UCT from 1964 until his death in 1982. He was an outstanding theoretical physicist, of international standing, and was a prime developer of analytical quantum scattering theory.

Wilhelm Eberhard Frahn was born at Duisburg, on the Lower Rhine, on 5 October 1926. After matriculating at the Max Planck Gymnasium in October 1946, he studied physics and mathematics at Aachen. He obtained his Diplom there in 1951 and his Dr.rer.nat. in 1953, his dissertation dealing with electrical discharges in gases.

In 1955 he moved to South Africa with his wife, Katie, and took up a position in the newly built Nuclear Physics Building of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, just outside Pretoria. He stayed there for five years, the last of which he spent as Acting Head of the Nuclear Physics Division of the National Physical Laboratories (now NPRL). Already during this period, his activities were shaped by his academic disposition. Apart from presenting a few short series of lectures on various topics in nuclear theory to the young scientists who collected around the first nuclear physics facility in South Africa, he supervised the doctoral work of two of them. The first, W.L. Rautenbach, helped to build an electromagnetic isotope separator, later became director of the Nuclear Physics Division and then became Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at Stellenbosch. The other, R.H. Lemmer, after a decade in Florida and at MIT, is now Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand.

In 1960 he became the first Professor of Nuclear Physics at the University of Stellenbosch. Again a group of students collected around him. Two of them he guided towards their doctorates. H. Fiedeldey, who obtained his degree for work on the optical model, is now Professor of Physics at the University of South Africa. With R.H. Venter, who later left physics and is now Director General of the Department of National Education, Frahn developed the strong absorption model for elastic nuclear scattering and polarization, as well as a diffraction model for single-nucleon transfer reactions between complex nuclei.

In 1964 Frahn accepted the chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Cape Town and stayed here until his untimely death on 19 April 1982. He was Head of the Department in 1972-74 and again in 1982. The first two students to complete a Ph.D. under him in Cape Town were J.M. Potgieter, later Professor of Applied Mathematics at Port Elizabeth, and F.J.W. Hahne, now Professor of Theoretical Nuclear Physics at Stellenbosch.

Around this time the merging of his interests in diffraction and nuclear reactions branched in two directions. In the field of high-energy particle scattering he made analyses, with G.W. Wiechers, of reactions between 20-GeV protons and complex nuclei which were measured at CERN, and he maintained an interest in developments in the high-energy region afterwards.

It was, however, in the newly developing field of heavy-ion reactions that his early work on diffractive nucleon transfer gave him a head start. He realized that the angular distributions observed in various processes corresponded to Fresnel scattering, and explained the role of the Coulomb field in causing this unexpected phenomenon. In the seventies his conception of quantum diffraction as a general phenomenon crystallized in a review article under this title.

Among his students at UCT were R. Feder (now Professor of Physics as Duisburg), K.M. Hartmann and B. Sch�rmann (both at present in Munich), A. Andriotis (now at the University of Athens), and T.F. Hill (now at the Nuclear Development Corporation at Pelindaba). He increasingly began to spend more and more of his time at various centres elsewhere in the world. Inter alia, he was invited to lecture at summer schools on nuclear physics in Rumania (1969) and at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste (1966, 1969, and 1973). He was visiting professor at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg (1965, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1978), at the Hahn-Meitner Institute in Berlin (1971 and 1975), at the Technical University in Munich (1974 and 1979), at the University of Frankfurt (1975), at the CEN, Saclay (1975), at the IPN, Orsay (1978 and 1980), and at the University of Sao Paulo (1979 and 1980).

He became a Life Fellow of the University of Cape Town in 1969, and was made an Honorary Research Associate at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1974. In 1970 Frahn was awarded the Havenga Prize for Physics by Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns and in 1979 the South Africa Medal by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in Johannesburg. The De Beers Gold Medal, the highest award of the South African Institute of Physics, was bestowed on him posthumously.

November, 1988