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History of PTR and PTB

From the foundation into the 21st century

1887 Foundation of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR) in Berlin on the basis of the ideas of Werner von Siemens and Hermann von Helmholtz and on their joint initiative. Helmholtz is nominated the PTR’s first president.
1893 Wien's displacement law
1896 Wien's radiation law (Nobel price 1911)
1896 - 1900 Radiation measurements by Lummer, Wien, Pringsheim, Rubens and Kurlbaum form the experimental basis of Planck's Radiation Law with which quantum physics begins.
1898 First legal tasks: realization and maintenance of the electric units; testing of instruments for measuring electric quantities
1913 Geiger-Müller counter
1915 Einstein (as a guest) and de Haas: gyromagnetic effekt
1917 Kösters: Interference comparator for length measurements
1923 Incorporation of the Reichsanstalt für Maß und Gewicht (Weights and Measures Office). Supervising technical authority for the verification and test offices. Responsible for establishing and ensuring all legal units.
1925 Bothe (Nobel Prize 1954) and Geiger: Coincidence measurement technique and proof of the validity of the energy theorem for ionization by radiation. Ida Tacke and Walter Noddack: Discovery of the element "rhenium". First liquefaction of helium in Germany.
1932 - 1934 Scheibe and Adelsberger: highly accurate quartz clock, irregularity of the Earth's rotation measurable for the first time
1933 For the PTR, too, a dark chapter begins. A staunch National Socialist and opponent of modern theoretical physics is appointed president. Among other things, he dissolves the Kuratorium (Advisory Board) of PTR during his term in office.
1933 Meißner and Ochsenfeld: Magnetic field expulsion from metals in the transition to superconductivity
1939 - 1945 Normal frequency emission via the radio station Deutschlandsender in Zeesen
1943-45 Heavy war damages. Many laboratories of the Reichsanstalt are moved to other places.
1945 in Braunschweig: PTR -> PTA (1948) -> PTB (1950) and in Berlin: West: PTR Berlin in Charlottenburg (until 1953) East: PTR -> DAMG (1946) -> DAM (1961) -> DAMW (1964) -> ASMW (1973), lastly in Friedrichshagen.
1946 Rebuilding of PTR in Berlin, as an agency of the Senate of West Berlin.
1950 Foundation of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Braunschweig. Die PTB in Braunschweig wird metrologisches Staatsinstitut der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
1953 Affiliation of the PTR in Berlin-Charlottenburg to PTB as the "Berlin Institute
1968 New group: "High-temperature and Vacuum Physics" at the Institute Berlin
1969 Verification and Units Act assigns tasks to PTB.
1977 Government and industry found the Deutscher Kalibrierdienst (DKD) (German Calibration Service) for the state-certified calibration of standards and measuring instruments which is headed by PTB. The group "Electrical Measuring Techniques" becomes "Low-temperature Physics".
1978 The Time Act entrusts PTB with the realization and dissemination of legal time. The group "Solid State Physics" becomes "Medical Metrology".
1979 Basic agreement on the establishment and operation of the Berlin Electron Storage Ring for Synchrotron Radiation (BESSY). Operation of the storage ring from 1981 on. At BESSY, PTB operates a laboratory which uses synchrotron radiation for optical metrology, above all in the case of short wavelengths.
1981 Magnetically shielded room for biomagnetic investigations with highly sensitive SQUIDs
1983 The group "Mechanics and Thermometry" becomes "Applied Thermometry".
1984 Proof that BESSY, with suitable operating parameters, represents a radiation source with calculable radiant power (radiometric primary standard as was previously only the case with the cavity radiator).
1988 New group: "Biosignals".
1990 Assumption of some of the tasks of the metrology department of the "Amt für Standardisierung, Messwesen und Warenprüfung" (ASMW, Agency for Standardization, Metrology and Commodities Testing) of the former German Democratic Republic. At this point in time, PTB has a staff of 2,000.
1991 New divisions: "Temperature and Synchrotron Radiation" and "Medical Physics und Information Technology" at the Berlin Institute. Responsible for the temperature scale in Berlin. In the following decade, PTB will concentrate on the Braunschweig and the Berlin Charlottenburg sites.
1992 Berlin-Adlershof selected as the site for BESSY II. Operation of the storage ring as from 1998. Cooperation in the field of medical metrology, particularly metrological diagnostics, with the Steglitz Hospital of the Freie Universität Berlin. In 1993, a PTB laboratory is established at the Steglitz Hospital.
1993 Measuring facility for medical laser metrology for tumor detection at the Robert Rössle Hospital at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
1994 The Medical Devices Act stipulates further tasks of PTB.
1999 Formal dedication of PTB's synchrotron radiation laboratory transferred from BESSY to BESSY II, with the commemorative event "100 Years of Radiometry - 1899 to 1999" at the Berlin Institute. BESSY is decommissioned. The Berliner Landesamt für Mess- und Eichwesen (LME) (State Office of Metrology and Verification) is relocated from the PTB grounds to the former BESSY building in Berlin Wilmersdorf. PTB uses the vacant buildings for the concentration of sites in Berlin. .
2000 Dedication of the Hermann von Helmholtz Building, the reconstructed former Deutsches Arbeitsschutzmuseum (German Industrial Safety Museum) in the immediate vicinity of the other buildings of the Berlin Institute (IB). International Provisional Low Temperature Scale 2000 (PLTS-2000) for the low temperature range from 0.9 mK to 1 K, in whose elaboration PTB was considerably involved. .
2001 Leave-taking of PTB from the Berlin-Friedrichshagen site with the event PTB - 10 Jahre nach der deutschen Vereinigung (PTB - 10 years after German reunification).
2002 Evaluation of the PTB by an expert committee appointed by the Federal Ministry of Economics. in Bezug auf Profil und Qualität der Arbeit – mit exzellentem Ergebnis.
2003 Completion of the concentration on Charlottenburg at the PTB Berlin site with the dedication of the new Gerätebau (Scientific Instrumentation) building in Berlin on the part of the PTB grounds formerly used by the Berlin LME (Berlin State Office for Metrology and Verification). New departmental structure also of the two Berlin divisions within the scope of a reform of the organizational structure of PTB. .
2004 The Europäische Richtlinie für Messgeräte (MID) (European Measuring Instruments Directive) is adopted.
2008 PTB is evaluated by the Wissenschaftsrat (German Council of Science and Humanities) on behalf of the Federal Government – with an excellent outcome.
2012 125 years - precisely: In March 2012, PTB looked back at a 125-year-old (success) story – with an international symposium and a (festive) ceremony in the Braunschweiger Stadthalle (Braunschweig Civic Center).

Faces of PTR

To this very day, the spirit of its founding fathers continues to live at PTB – whether it is in the spectrum of tasks, in the express focus on research, or in the content of research work which is often based on important achievements of the PTR/PTB. The following persons have notably characterized the scientific face of PTB:

Werner von Siemens
1816 - 1892
Wilhelm Wien
1864 - 1928
Otto Lummer
1860 - 1925
Ferdinand Kurlbaum
1857 - 1927
Ernst Pringsheim
1859 - 1917
Walter Bothe
1891 - 1957
Hans Geiger
1882 - 1945
Albert Einstein
1879 - 1955
Wilhelm Kösters
1876 - 1950
Ida Noddack
1896 - 1978
Walter Noddack
1893 - 1960
Adolf Scheibe
1895 - 1958
Walther Meißner
1882 - 1974
Robert Ochsenfeld
1901 - 1993

Chronology of the PTR/PTB

This animated time line was created on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the PTR/PTB in 2012.

This project aims to document the development of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (Imperial Physical Technical Institute (PTR)) during the Third Reich and examine its role in the National Socialist (NS) scientific community. Prof. Dr. Dieter Hoffmann (Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science) is working on this project.

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Several PTB books deal with the history of the PTR/PTB (available in bookshops or directly from Fachverlag NW (NW Science Publishing Company)):

  • David Cahan: Meister der Messung. Die Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt. (An Institute for an Empire: The Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt). 1992
  • Ulrich Kern: Forschung und Präzisionsmessung. Die Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt zwischen 1918 und 1948. 1948 (Research and Precision Measurement. The Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt between 1918 and 1948 – available in German only). 1993
  • Dieter Kind: Herausforderung Metrologie. Die Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt und die Entwicklung seit 1945. (The Metrological Challenge. The Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt and its Development since 1945 – available in German only). 2002
  • Rudolf Huebener, Heinz Lübbig: a Focus of Discoveries. World Scientific, 2008
  • Imke Frischmuth, Jens Simon (Eds.): A Metrological Textbook. the Art of measuring at PTB - in the Passt, present and Future. Special publication of the 4 issues of the PTB-Mitteilungen in the anniversary year 2012

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