Otto von Guericke and the Horror of Vacuum

Caspar Schott’s illustation of the vacuum experiment

On November 30, 1602, German scientist, inventor, and politician Otto von Guericke was born. One of his major scientific achievements was the establishment of the physics of vacuums, which he gave proof of in a very famous public experiment.

Otto von Guericke enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1617 and continued his studies in law and engineering later on in Helmstedt, Jena, and Leiden. In the 1630s, von Guericke worked as an engineer to rebuild the cities of Erfurt and Magdeburg. He was even voted mayor of Madgeburg and took part in the negotiations during the Peace of Westphalia. Soon, von Guericke increased his interest in science and found most fun in the fields of astronomy and pneumatics, for which he became famous in later years. He started corresponding with the Professor for philosophy and mathematics at the University of Würzburg.

Von Guericke’s first work in Mechanica hydraulico-pneumatica was published in 1657 by Caspar Schott. Another possible publication followed in 1663, when he finished his manuskripts on Experimenta nova, but he never brought it to the printer. Only in 1672 he managed to print this famous work. The famous and admired Otto von Guericke moved to Hamburg when the plague arrived in Magdeburg, where he passed away in 1686.

Otto von Guericke’s scientific achievements are numerous. In 1649, he invented the vacuum pump in order to research the characteristics of partial vacuums in a variety of experiments and built several applications, like a pneumatic weapon with which he demonstrated that light could get through a vaccum but sound couldn’t. Von Guericke used to demonstrate his findings through very spectacular experiments. In 1657, he took two big hemispheres (better known as Magdeburg hemispheres) made of copper, put them together and pumped the air out of the construction. Eight horses were then connected to either side in order to take the pieces apart but it was hopeless. When he let the air back inside, the hemispheres fell apart by themselves. With those spectacular events, von Guericke was able to proof what Blaise Pascal has already predicted. He once said that matter enters the vacuum and not the other way around.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short demostation of Otto von Guericke’s famous vacuum experiment by Russel Zeid.

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