EE Academic Genealogy Project
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Hermann von Helmholtz
Professor of Physics
U. of Berlin
|Ph.D., University of Berlin||Johannes Peter Müller|
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (August 31, 1821 – September 8, 1894) was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science. In physiology and psychology, he is known for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, ideas on the visual perception of space, color vision research, and on the sensation of tone, perception of sound, and empiricism. In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of thermodynamics. As a philosopher, he is known for his philosophy of science, ideas on the relation between the laws of perception and the laws of nature, the science of aesthetics, and ideas on the civilizing power of science. The largest German association of research institutions, the Helmholtz Association, is named after him.
Helmholtz’s first academic position was associate professor of physiology at the Prussian University of Königsberg, where he was appointed in 1849. In 1855 he accepted a full professorship of anatomy and physiology at the University of Bonn. He was not particularly happy in Bonn, however, and three years later he transferred to the University of Heidelberg, in Baden, where he served as professor of physiology. In 1871 he accepted his final university position, as professor of physics at the University of Berlin.
Other students and research associates of Helmholtz at Berlin included Max Planck, Heinrich Kayser, Eugen Goldstein, Wilhelm Wien, Arthur König, Henry Augustus Rowland, A. A. Michelson, Wilhelm Wundt, Fernando Sanford and Michael I. Pupin. Leo Koenigsberger, who studied at Berlin while Helmholtz was there, wrote the definitive biography of him in 1902.
William L. Robb
Prof. Physics and Electrical Engineering
|Post-Doctoral Fellow, 1892, ETH Zurich|
|Ph.D., 1883, University of Berlin||Hermann von Helmholtz|
|M.S., 1881, University of Berlin||Gustav R. Kirchhoff|
William Lispenard Robb, (1861-1933) received a B.A. degree from Columbia University. He continued his post-graduate studies in Germany under von Helmholtz and Kirchoff, and received his Ph.D. at the University of Berlin. He went to Rensselaer as a Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering in 1902 by Director P. C. Ricketts, who was then embarking on a program of broadening the scope of the Institute curriculum. Dr. Robb introduced, organized, and heeded the course and department of electrical engineering until his death in 1933.
Dr. Robb was the first of that group of newcomers who helped to broaden and revitalize science and engineering at Rensselaer. His exacting and somewhat gruff manner and method as a teacher and administrator only partly concealed the essential integrity of the man, who represented the concept of “no nonsense” education.
[Information courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Archives. Special thanks to Ms. Jenifer Monger of RPI.]
Heinrich R. Hertz
|Hermann von Helmholtz|
|Gustav R. Kirchhoff|
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (22 February 1857 – 1 January 1894) was a German physicist who clarified and expanded James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory of light, which was first demonstrated by David Edward Hughes using non-rigorous trial and error procedures. Hertz is distinguished from Maxwell and Hughes because he was the first to conclusively prove the existence of electromagnetic waves by engineering instruments to transmit and receive radio pulses using experimental procedures that ruled out all other known wireless phenomena. The scientific unit of frequency – cycles per second – was named the “hertz” in his honor.
While studying at the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums in Hamburg, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz showed an aptitude for sciences as well as languages, learning Arabic and Sanskrit. He studied sciences and engineering in the German cities of Dresden, Munich and Berlin, where he studied under Gustav R. Kirchhoff and Hermann von Helmholtz.
In 1880, Hertz obtained his PhD from the University of Berlin; and remained for post-doctoral study under Hermann von Helmholtz. In 1883, Hertz took a post as a lecturer in theoretical physics at the University of Kiel. In 1885, Hertz became a full professor at the University of Karlsruhe where he discovered electromagnetic waves.
The most dramatic prediction of Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism, published in 1865, was the existence of electromagnetic waves moving at the speed of light, and the conclusion that light itself was just such a wave. This challenged experimentalists to generate and detect electromagnetic radiation using some form of electrical apparatus.
The first successful radio transmission was made by David Edward Hughes in 1879, but it would not be conclusively proven to have been electromagnetic waves until the experiments of Heinrich Hertz in 1886. For the Hertz radio wave transmitter, he used a high voltage induction coil, a condenser (capacitor, Leyden jar) and a spark gap—whose poles on either side are formed by spheres of 2 cm radius—to cause a spark discharge between the spark gap’s poles oscillating at a frequency determined by the values of the capacitor and the induction coil.
To prove there really was radiation emitted, it had to be detected. Hertz used a piece of copper wire, 1 mm thick, bent into a circle of a diameter of 7.5 cm, with a small brass sphere on one end, and the other end of the wire was pointed, with the point near the sphere. He bought a screw mechanism so that the point could be moved very close to the sphere in a controlled fashion. This “receiver” was designed so that current oscillating back and forth in the wire would have a natural period close to that of the “transmitter” described above. The presence of oscillating charge in the receiver would be signaled by sparks across the (tiny) gap between the point and the sphere (typically, this gap was hundredths of a millimeter).
In more advanced experiments, Hertz measured the velocity of electromagnetic radiation and found it to be the same as the light’s velocity. He also showed that the nature of radio waves’ reflection and refraction was the same as those of light and established beyond any doubt that light is a form of electromagnetic radiation obeying the Maxwell equations.
Hertz’s experiments triggered broad interest in radio research that eventually produced commercially successful wireless telegraph, audio radio, and later television.
He died of Wegener’s granulomatosis at the age of 36 in Bonn, Germany in 1894.
In 1930 the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) honored Hertz by naming the unit of frequency—one cycle per second—the “hertz”.
Albert A. Michelson
|Hermann von Helmholtz|
Albert Abraham Michelson (surname pronunciation anglicized as “Michael-son”, December 19, 1852 – May 9, 1931) was an American physicist known for his work on the measurement of the speed of light and especially for the Michelson–Morley experiment. In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. He became the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in sciences.
Michelson was fascinated with the sciences, and the problem of measuring the speed of light in particular. While at Annapolis, he conducted his first experiments of the speed of light, as part of a class demonstration in 1877. His Annapolis experiment was refined, and in 1879, he measured the speed of light in air to be 299,864±51 kilometers per second, and estimated the speed of light in vacuum as 299,940 km/s, or 186,380 mi/s. After two years of studies in Europe, he resigned from the Navy in 1881. In 1883 he accepted a position as professor of physics at the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio and concentrated on developing an improved interferometer. In 1887 he and Edward Morley carried out the famous Michelson–Morley experiment which seemed to rule out the existence of the aether. He later moved on to use astronomical interferometers in the measurement of stellar diameters and in measuring the separations of binary stars.
Michelson died in Pasadena, California at the age of 78. The University of Chicago Residence Halls remembered Michelson and his achievements by dedicating ‘Michelson House’ in his honor. Case Western Reserve has dedicated a Michelson House to him, and Michelson Hall (an academic building of science classrooms, laboratories and offices) at the United States Naval Academy also bears his name. Clark University named a theatre after him. Michelson Laboratory at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in Ridgecrest, California is named for him. There is a display in the publicly accessible area of the Lab which includes facsimiles of Michelson’s Nobel Prize medal, the prize document, and examples of his diffraction gratings.
Professor of Physics
University of Würzburg
|Ph.D., 1886, U. Berlin||Hermann von Helmholtz|
Wilhelm Carl Werner Otto Fritz Franz Wien (13 January 1864 – 30 August 1928) was a German physicist who, in 1893, used theories about heat and electromagnetism to deduce Wien’s displacement law, which calculates the emission of a blackbody at any temperature from the emission at any one reference temperature.
He also formulated an expression for the black-body radiation which is correct in the photon-gas limit. His arguments were based on the notion of adiabatic invariance, and were instrumental for the formulation of quantum mechanics. Wien received the 1911 Nobel Prize for his work on heat radiation.
Arthur Gordon Webster
|Ph.D., 1890, U. Berlin||Hermann von Helmholtz|
Arthur Gordon Webster (November 28, 1863 – May 15, 1923) was the founder of the American Physical Society.
Webster had graduated from Harvard College in 1885 at the top of his class and had stayed for a year as instructor in mathematics and physics. At the end of that year he went to the University of Berlin where he studied for four years with Hermann von Helmholtz, receiving his PhD in 1890. Helmholtz is said to have considered Webster his favorite American student. During this period Webster also studied in Paris and Stockholm. He was unusually proficient in literature and was fluent in Latin, Greek, German, French, and Swedish, with a good knowledge of Italian and Spanish and competency in Russian and modern Greek.
In 1892, when Michelson left Clark for Chicago, President Hall appointed Webster assistant professor and head of the Physical Laboratories. At that time, only Johns Hopkins University and Clark University had doctoral programs in physics. Webster was promoted to full professor in 1900.
Webster was unusual for his time in that he was both a proficient mathematician as well as a competent experimentalist.
Webster’s research was in the field of acoustics and mechanics. He is credited with developing an instrument to measure the absolute intensity of sound, the phonometer and for research on the gyroscope. He also gave graduate lectures in theoretical physics at Clark University, which have been published as three textbooks.
A group of twenty physicists, invited by Webster, founded the American Physical Society at a meeting at Fayerweather Hall in Columbia University on 20 May 1899. In 1903, Webster became president of the American Physical Society and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Michael I. Pupin
|Ph.D., 1889, U. Berlin||Hermann von Helmholtz|
Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin, Ph.D., LL.D. (9 October 1858 – 12 March 1935), also known as Michael I. Pupin, was a Serbian and American physicist and physical chemist. Pupin is best known for his numerous patents, including a means of greatly extending the range of long-distance telephone communication by placing loading coils (of wire) at predetermined intervals along the transmitting wire (known as “pupinization”). Pupin was a founding member of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) on March 3, 1915, which later became NASA.