physics

Sir William Crookes and the Fundamentals of Luminescence

Sir William Crookes and the Fundamentals of Luminescence

On June 17, 1832, British physicist, chemist, science journalist, and parapsychologist Sir William Crookes was born. Crookes visualized cathode rays, discovered the fundamentals of luminescence and isotopes, and developed methods for detecting ionizing radiation. He discovered the chemical element thallium and the thorium isotope 234Th. William Crookes – Biographical Background William Crookes was born in London, the eldest son of the second wife of Joseph Crookes, a very wealthy tailor. He attended…
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Hannes Alfvén – the Father of Plasma Physics

Hannes Alfvén – the Father of Plasma Physics

On May 30, 1908. Swedish electrical engineer, plasma physicist, and Nobel laureate Hannes Alfvén was born. Alfvén won the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). He described the class of MHD waves now known as Alfvén waves. Alfvén made many contributions to plasma physics, including theories describing the behavior of aurorae, the Van Allen radiation belts, the effect of magnetic storms on the Earth’s magnetic field, the terrestrial magnetosphere, and the dynamics…
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Alfred Nier – a Pioneer in Mass Spectroscopy

Alfred Nier – a Pioneer in Mass Spectroscopy

On May 28, 1911, American physicist Alfred Otto Carl Nier was born. Nier pioneered the development of mass spectrometry. He was the first to use mass spectrometry to isolate uranium-235 which was used to demonstrate that 235U could undergo fission and developed the sector mass spectrometer configuration now known as Nier-Johnson geometry. “…You try to untangle all of these processes to get at the primordial ratio of the heliums in the cosmic…
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Andrei Sakharov and the Soviet Thermonuclear Bomb

Andrei Sakharov and the Soviet Thermonuclear Bomb

On May 21, 1921, Russian nuclear physicist, Soviet dissident, an activist for disarmament, peace and human rights Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was born.Sakharov became renowned as the designer of the Soviet Union‘s thermonuclear weapons. Sakharov later became an advocate of civil liberties and civil reforms in the Soviet Union, for which he faced state persecution; these efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. “We regard as “scientific” a method based on…
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Thomas Wedgwood – possibly the First Photographer

Thomas Wedgwood – possibly the First Photographer

On May 14, 1771, early experimenter in the field of photography Thomas Wedgwood was born. He is the first person known to have thought of creating impermanent pictures by capturing camera images on material coated with a light-sensitive chemical. His practical experiments yielded only shadow image photograms that were not light-fast, but his conceptual breakthrough and partial success have led some historians to call him “the first photographer”. Thomas Wedgwood – Early…
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Heinrich Gustav Magnus and the Magnus Effect

Heinrich Gustav Magnus and the Magnus Effect

On May 2, 1802, German physicist Heinrich Gustav Magnus was born. He is best known for the Magnus effect (the lift force produced by a rotating cylinder, which for example, gives the curve to a curve ball). In chemical research, he discovered the first of the platino-ammonium compounds. Heinrich Gustav Magnus – Early Years Heinrich Gustav Magnus’ father, the wealthy cloth and silk merchant Immanuel Meyer Magnus was baptized in 1807 with his…
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The Case of J. Robert Oppenheimer

The Case of J. Robert Oppenheimer

On April 22, 1904, American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was born. Oppenheimer was the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory and is among those who are credited with being the “father of the atomic bomb” for their role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer‘s achievements in physics included the Born–Oppenheimer approximation for molecular wave functions, work on the theory of electrons…
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James David Forbes – Seismology and the Conduction of Heat

James David Forbes – Seismology and the Conduction of Heat

On April 20, 1809, Scottish physicist and glaciologist James David Forbes was born. Forbes worked extensively on the conduction of heat and seismology. He conducted experiments on the temperature of the Earth at different depths and in different soils near Edinburgh. Later he investigated the laws of heat conduction in bars and invented the seismometer. “I thank God humbly and sincerely. God, who has visited us with many trials, and led us…
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Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran and the Improvement of Spectroscopy

Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran and the Improvement of Spectroscopy

On April 18, 1838, French chemist Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran was born. Lecoq de Boisbaudran improved spectroscopic methods which had recently been developed by Paul Kirchhoff. Furthermore he is known for his discoveries of the chemical elements gallium, samarium and dysprosium. Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran – Early Years Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran belonged to the ancient Protestant nobility of Poitou and Angoumois, whose considerable fortune, however, disappeared after the revocation of the Edict of…
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Ernest Solvay and his Love for Physics

Ernest Solvay and his Love for Physics

On April 16, 1838, Belgian chemist, industrialist and philanthropist Ernest Gaston Joseph Solvay was born. Solvay invented the Solvay Process (1863), a commercially viable ammonia-soda process for producing soda ash (sodium carbonate), widely used in the manufacture of such products as glass and soap. In 1911, he began a series of important conferences in physics, known as the Solvay Conferences, whose participants included luminaries such as Max Planck, Ernest Rutherford, Maria Skłodowska-Curie, Henri…
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