Wolfgang Paul was born on 10 August 1913 in Lorenzkirch, Germany. He grew up in Munich where his father was a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry. After the first few years at the Technical University of Munich, he changed to the Technical University of Berlin in 1934 where he finished his Diploma in 1937 at the group of Hans Geiger. He followed his doctorate adviser Hans Kopfermann to the University of Kiel and after being drafted to the air force he finished his PhD in 1940 at the Technical University of Berlin.
He developed techniques for trapping charged particles mass spectrometry by electric quadrupole fields in the 1950s. Paul traps are used extensively today to contain and study ions. He developed molecular beam lenses and worked on a 500 MeV electron synchrotron, followed by one at 2500 MeV in 1965. Later he worked on containing slow neutrons in magnetic storage rings, measuring the free neutron lifetime.
For several years he was a private lecturer at the University of Göttingen with Hans Kopfermann. He became a professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Bonn and stayed there from 1952 until 1993. For two years from 1965 to 1967 he was Director of the Division of Nuclear Physics at CERN.