Recieved his doctorate in physics at the University of Munich in 1897.
He went to Göttingen in 1900 and lectured there until 1906. In 1909 he was appointed full Professor at Aachen. During this period Stark corresponded freely with Albert Einstein and was one of the earliest proponents of modern physical concepts such as the light quanta hypothesis. In 1913 he discovered what came to be known as the ‘Stark effect’, the splitting of spectral lines in an electric field, and six years later he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in recognition of his work on electro-magnetism. Professor at the University of Würzberg from 1920 to 1922, Stark had to resign his chair as a result of his angry polemics against Einstein and the theory of relativity. His scathing attack on the physics community. Die Gegenwärtige Krisis in der Deutschen Physik (The Present Crisis in German Physics, 1922), which rejected not only the relativity theory but also the Bohr-Sonnenfeld quantum theories as ‘dogmatic’, increasingly isolated Stark among German physicists and drove him out of academic life for eleven years. Stark’s status as an intellectual pariah, his acute sense of victimization and his combative nature drove him into the arms of the völkisch movement and as early as 1924 he declared his allegiance to Hitler.
Stark joined the Nazi Party on 1 April 1930 and, together with Philipp Lenard, was the foremost physicist to try to integrate natural science into the Nazi world-view. After Hitler’s rise to power. Stark attempted to reorganize German physics under Nazi leadership and to gain control over the direction of scientific research. As President of the Imperial Institute of Physics and Technology from 1933 to 1939 and of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft until 1936, Stark outspokenly denounced theoretical physics, stressing the importance of applied research for technology, industry, economic self-sufficiency and war production.
Caught up in intra-Party intrigues. Stark made the fatal mistake of choosing Alfred Rosenberg as his patron and suffered the consequences as the latter’s influence declined. During his trial in Bavaria after the end of the war, some of the top German physicists, including von Laue, Heisenberg and Sommerfeld, testified against Stark. On 20 July 1947 he was found guilty as a ‘Major Offender' and sentenced to four years’ hard labour. The classification was later reduced and his sentence suspended.
Stark died in Traunstein on 21 June 1951.
Racism became a weapon against those who had cast him out of academia, and Stark’s deep aversion to theory found expression in his attacks on ‘Jewish’ physics as being unconcerned with the observation of facts, with experiment or scientific objectivity.
According to Stark in his Nationalsozialismus und Wissenschaft (1934), the scientist’s first duty was to the nation and leading scientific positions in the Nazi State could only be occupied by nationally conscious, ethnic Germans. Exact, disinterested observation of natural phenomena was, according to Stark, a function of the Nordic racial soul, ‘overwhelmingly a creation of the Nordic-Germanic blood components of the Aryan peoples’. Jewish scientists, on the other hand, were depicted as egocentric, born advocates ‘unencumbered by regard for truth', mixing facts and imputations, concerned with formal exposition and above all ‘interested in self-advertisement and commercial exploitation' of their work. Lacking, according to Stark, the aptitude for true creative activity in the natural sciences, ‘the dogmatic zeal and propagandistic drive of the Jewish scientist leads him to report on his achievements not only in scientific journals but also in the daily press and on lecture tours'.
Similarly racist arguments were advanced in Stark's Jüdische und Deutsche Physik (1941), but by this time Stark's influence on the German physics community had greatly declined. Not only had he violated the accepted professional values and undermined the scientific standing of German physics, he had also managed to antagonize the Reich Minister for Science, Education and Culture, Bernhard Rust, the SS and various Party agencies.