Peter Adolf Thiessen

Peter Adolf Thiessen
Born (1899-04-06)6 April 1899
Schweidnitz (modern Świdnica, Poland)
Died 5 March 1990(1990-03-05) (aged 90)

Peter Adolf Thiessen (6 April 1899 5 March 1990) was a German physical chemist. He voluntarily went to the Soviet Union at the close of World War II, and he received high Soviet decorations and the Stalin Prize for contributions to the Soviet atomic bomb project.


Thiessen was born in Schweidnitz (modern Świdnica, Poland).

From 1919 to 1923, he attended Breslau University, the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, the University of Greifswald, and the Georg-August University of Göttingen. He received his doctorate in 1923 under Richard Adolf Zsigmondy at Göttingen.[1]


Early years

In 1923, Thiessen was a supernumerary assistant at the University of Göttingen and from 1924 to 1930 was a regular teaching assistant. He joined the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Nazi Party) in 1925. He became a Privatdozent at Göttingen in 1926. In 1930, he became head of the department of inorganic chemistry there, and in 1932 he also became an untenured extraordinarius professor.[1][2]

In 1933, Thiessen became a department head at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institut für physikalische Chemie und Elektrochemie (KWIPC) of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gesellschaft (KWG). For a short time in 1935, he became an ordinarius professor of chemistry at the University of Münster. Later, that year and until 1945, he became an ordinarius professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin and director of the KWIPC in Berlin-Dahlem. As director of the KWIPC, he transformed it into a model National Socialist organization.[1][3]

Thiessen was the main advisor and confidant to Rudolf Mentzel, who was head of the chemistry and organic materials section of the Reichsforschungsrat (RFR, Reich Research Council). Thiessen, as director of the KWIPC, had a flat on Faradayweg in Dahlem that the former director Fritz Haber used for business purposes; Thiessen shared this flat with Mentzel.[1]

In the Soviet Union

Before the end of World War II, Thiessen had Communist contacts.[1] He, Manfred von Ardenne, director of his private laboratory Forschungslaboratoriums für Elektronenphysik,[4] Gustav Hertz, Nobel Laureate and director of the second research laboratory at Siemens, and Max Volmer, ordinarius professor and director of the Physical Chemistry Institute at the Berlin Technische Hochschule, had made a pact. The pact was a pledge that whoever first made contact with the Russians would speak for the rest. The objectives of their pact were threefold: (1) prevent plunder of their institutes, (2) continue their work with minimal interruption, and (3) protect themselves from prosecution for any political acts of the past.[5] On 27 April 1945, Thiessen arrived at von Ardenne’s institute in an armored vehicle with a major of the Soviet Army, who was also a leading Soviet chemist.[6] All four were taken to the Soviet Union. Von Ardenne was made head of Institute A,[7][8] in Sinop,[9][10] a suburb of Sukhumi. Hertz was made head of Institute G,[11] in Agudseri (Agudzery),[9][10] about 10 km southeast of Sukhumi and a suburb of Gul’rips (Gulrip’shi). Volmer went to the Nauchno-Issledovatel’skij Institut-9 (NII-9, Scientific Research Institute No. 9),[12] in Moscow; he was given a design bureau to work on the production of heavy water.[13] In Institute A, Thiessen became leader for developing techniques for manufacturing porous barriers for isotope separation.[14]

In 1949, six German scientists, including Hertz, Thiessen, and Barwich, were called in for consultation at Sverdlovsk-44, which was responsible for uranium enrichment. The plant, which was smaller than the American Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion plant, was getting only a little over half of the expected 90% or higher enrichment.[15]

Awards for uranium enrichment technologies were made in 1951 after testing of a bomb with uranium; the first test was with plutonium. Thiessen received a Stalin Prize, first class.[16]

Return to Germany

Thiessen returned to the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR, German Democratic Republic) in the mid-1950s as a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences and from 1956 was director of the Institute of Physical Chemistry in East Berlin. From 1957 to 1965, he was also chairman of the Forschungsrates der DDR (Research Council of the German Democratic Republic).[17][18][19]

He died in Berlin in 1990.




  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Hentschel, 1996, Appendix F; see the entry for Thiessen.
  2. Holloway, 1994, 110.
  3. Hentschel, 1996, 56.
  4. - Zur Ehrung von Manfred von Ardenne.
  5. Heinemann-Grüder, 2002, 44.
  6. Oleynikov, 2000, 5.
  7. Goals of Manfred von Ardennne’s Institute A included: (1) Electromagnetic separation of isotopes, for which von Ardenne was the leader, (2) Techniques for manufacturing porous barriers for isotope separation, for which Peter Adolf Thiessen was the leader, and (3) Molecular techniques for separation of uranium isotopes, for which Max Steenbeck was the leader. In his first meeting with Lavrentij Beria, von Ardenne was asked to participate in building the bomb, but von Ardenne quickly realized that participation would prohibit his repatriation to Germany, so he suggested isotope enrichment as an objective, which was agreed to. By the end of the 1940s, nearly 300 Germans were working at the institute, and they were not the total work force. See Oleynikov, 2000, 10-11.
  8. Institute A was used as the basis for the Sukhumi Physical-Technical Institute. See Oleynikov, 2000, 12.
  9. 1 2 Oleynikov, 2000, 11-12.
  10. 1 2 Naimark, 1995, 213.
  11. Topics assigned to Gustav Hertz’s Institute G included: (1) Separation of isotopes by diffusion in a flow of inert gases, for which Gustav Hertz was the leader, (2) Development of a condensation pump, for which Justus Mühlenpfordt was the leader, (3) Design and build a mass spectrometer for determining the isotopic composition of uranium, for which Werner Schütze was the leader, (4) Development of frameless (ceramic) diffusion partitions for filters, for which Reinhold Reichmann was the leader, and (5) Development of a theory of stability and control of a diffusion cascade, for which Heinz Barwich was the leader. After 1950, Hertz moved to Moscow. See Oleynikov, 2000, 12-13 and 18. Also see Kruglov, 2002, 131.
  12. Today, NII-9 is the Bochvar All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Inorganic Materials, Bochvar VNIINM. See Oleynikov, 2000, 4.
  13. Oleynikov, 2000, 13.
  14. Oleynikov, 2000, 11.
  15. Holloway, 1994, 191-192.
  16. Oleynikov, 2000, 21.
  17. Fritz Haber Institute – MPG.
  18. Thiessen – German Wikipedia.
  19. Hentschel, 2007, 78 - 79.


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