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Famous scholars from Kiel:

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

With his discoveries, this German physicist laid the foundations of radio and television transmission. He taught at Kiel University from1883 to 1885.

Heinrich Hertz was born on 22nd February 1857 in Hamburg; he was the son of a lawyer who later became a member of the Hamburg Senate. In 1876 he commenced his engineering studies at the Dresdner Polytechnik but after one semester he left to complete one year's military service in Berlin, after which he continued his studies, this time at the Technical University of Munich. However, he recognised "that his abilities lay more with science than with technology", to use the words of Charlotte Schmidt-Schönbeck in her book on the history of physics at Kiel University. He therefore switched to studying the natural sciences at Munich University.

In 1878 he moved to Berlin where he continued his studies under such famous academics as Hermann von Helmholtz (1821 to 1894) and Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (1824 to 1887). Even during his student days Hertz began to use the physics laboratory to participate in competitions on physical problems – much to Helmholtz's approval. He achieved his doctorate as early as his 5th specialist semester with his thesis "Über die Induktion der rotierenden Kugeln" (On the Induction of Rotating Spheres) and passed his oral dissertation defence "magna cum laude". He was only just 23 when the doctorate was awarded in 1880. He then accepted the position of an assistant in the Physics Institute under Helmholtz where he worked on problems of electro-dynamics, mechanics and meteorology.

In 1883 Hertz moved to be an Associate Professor in mathematical physics at Kiel University. Here he achieved his "Habilitation" with his work "Versuche über die Glimmentladung" (Experiments on Corona Discharge) which he had earlier completed in Berlin. However, Hertz was rarely happy during his time in Kiel. His lectures were not appreciated by his students and there was little opportunity for experiments. Schmidt-Schönbeck quoted the following from his diary "Everything is in short supply at the university and in Kiel, too, nothing is easy to obtain. You can run around for goodness knows how long just for a small piece of platinum wire or a glass tube. And then you have to do everything over a miserable spirit lamp ..." His most important paper during his Kiel period was a theoretical investigation of electro-dynamic problems but he also busied himself intensively with hydrodynamic issues.

In 1885 Hertz took up a position as Professor of Physics at the Technical University of Karlsruhe. As the head of a Physics Institute he had every experimental tool at his disposal. From 1886 onwards he conducted the experiments that were to make him world-famous. "His greatest achievement was without doubt the experimental proof of the existence of electro-magnetic waves", stated Professor Holger Kersten of the Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics. "The most important classical field theory – Faraday's and Maxwell's conception of electro-magnetism – was turned into an independent area alongside particle physics and also opened up an unimagined advance of many technical applications." The discovery of electro-magnetic waves and the proof that they behave and propagate like light brought world-wide scientific recognition to Hertz. Scientific bodies and academies in Italy, France and Austria awarded major prizes to him. The Prussian government conferred the Kronen-Orden (Order of the Crown) on him. His experiments with these waves led later to the development of the wireless telegraph, radio, television and much more.

Following his great success in Karlsruhe, his teacher, von Helmholtz, would have been happy to have him back in Berlin. However, having been offered professorships in Berlin, Bonn and Giessen, Hertz decided that he would continue his work at the University of Bonn where he took over as head of the Physics Institute in 1889. Theoretical interests took centre stage in his activities in Bonn. He then devoted himself to the system of Maxwell's equations and later, although already in poor health, worked on his last book which was on the theoretical substantiation of mechanics.

The plasma physicist Kersten called his death a great loss. "When Hertz died on 1st January 1894 from the results of blood poisoning a few weeks before his 37th birthday, physics lost one of the greatest hopes for the future it ever had", His assistant Philipp Lenard (1862 to 1947) continued his work and published an edition of his collected works. Hertz was buried in the Ohlsdorfer Cemetery in his home town of Hamburg. The Hamburg television tower (the Heinrich Hertz tower) and Berlin's Heinrich Hertz Institute which belongs to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft as well as many streets and areas were all named after him.

Kerstin Nees

Electro-magnetic waves

98.3 and 102.4 – these figures (in MHz) indicate the frequency on which the radio broadcasters NDR 2 and RSH can be received in Kiel. The unit of frequency is called the Hertz (Hz) and is named after Heinrich Rudolf Hertz. In 1886 this German physicist was the first person to succeed in creating electro-magnetic waves experimentally. Their existence had been predicted by James Clerk Maxwell in 1864 in his electro-magnetic field theory.

The properties of electro-magnetic waves which Hertz investigated and described form the basis of wireless technology. Radio waves are electro-magnetic waves in the frequency range from 75 kHz to about 10 GHz which modern technology frequently uses for the wireless transmission of speech, images and other data. Radio waves do more than just carry speech and music into our radio sets; they are also used for television transmissions and mobile phones.

Based on his theory of electricity and magnetism, Maxwell had predicted the existence of electro-magnetic radiation and its properties back in 1864 and had described their properties. In particular he had calculated that their speed of propagation was equal to the speed of light. He also recognised that light could be explained as an electro-magnetic phenomenon; in other words that light waves are high frequency electro-magnetic waves. Heinrich Hertz succeeded in experimentally creating electro-magnetic waves which propagated both along wires as well as through space. Guglielmo Marconi (1874 to 1937), K. Ferdinand Braun (1850 to 1918) and others developed the technology of information transmission over long distances by means of free electro-magnetic waves – a phenomenon which developed into modern radio and television technology. The first person to succeed in wireless transmission of data, albeit over a distance of 250 m, was the Russian physicist Alexander Popov (1859 to 1906). In 1909 Marconi and Braun jointly were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

For further reading

  • Schmidt-Schönbeck, Charlotte: 300 Jahre Physik und Astronomie
    an der Kieler Universität.
    Kiel 1965.
  • Lenards work in Kiel

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