Bothe was born near Berlin as son of Fritz and Charlotte Hartung Bothe. From 1908 to 1914 he studied physics at the University of Berlin under Max Planck. In the first world war , he was captured by the Russians and he spent a year in captivity in Siberia.  he was allowed to return to Germany In 1920. In Moscow he had his wife, Barbara Below, with whom he had two daughters, Johanna and Elena.
After the war he worked with Hans Geiger in Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt in Berlin, where he did his most important discoveries. Bothe lectured from 1920 to1931 at the University of Berlin, from 1931 to 1932 to the University of Gießen and from 1932 to 1957 at the University of Heidelberg, where he took over the Chair of Physics of Philipp Lenard.
During the Second World War was a member of the Member Bothe (Uranium Association) where he together with Werner Heisenberg worked on the development of nuclear power and the atomic bomb. After the war had ended he returned to the University in Heidelberg, where he remained until his death in 1957. In addition, he was Director of the Heidelberg-based Max Planck Institute.
To the quantum theory, those early years 1920 General was accepted, to confirm experimentally developed Bothe the coincidence method. With this method he could detect the emission of electrons by x-ray radiation in which the electrons by two adjacent geiger counters at nearly the same time be registered as a coïncidentiële event.This he showed that momentum and energy on atomic level be maintained. In 1925 he applied the coincidence method to study cosmic radiation and showed it that existed before this radiation from charged particles than from photons. It was for this research he shared the Nobel Prize in 1954 with Max Born.
In 1930 published Bothe, together with his student Herbert Becker, the article "Künstliche Erregung von Core-γ-kind of radiation" in which they indicated that there was strong energetic gamma radiation at shelling of beryllium with Alpha radiation.  this would ultimately result in the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick two years later.
- Nuclear Physics and Cosmic Rays (1948)
- Atlas of Cloud-Chamber Figures (1940)
- Bothe and Hans Geiger, w., "Experimentaler Teil". 1921.
- Bothe, w., "vorstehenden Bemerkung zur Arbeit". 1921.
- Bothe, w., "Remarks on the Leipziger DÒ attempt". 1941.
- Bothe, w., "The distribution of velocity of the neutrons in a vomiting means". 1942.
- Bothe, w., "The vermehrung or fast neutrons in uranium and some other work from the KWI Heidelberg".
- Bothe, w., "About radiation protection walls".
- Bothe, w. and w. Fuenfer, "Layer attempts with variation of the u and DÒ thicknesses".