Hermann von Helmholtz

Hermann von Helmholtz

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand Helmholtz, more commonly known as Hermann von Helmholtz, was a German physicist, physician and philosopher who made many groundbreaking contributions to physiology, electrodynamics, optics, meteorology and mathematics. He is highly regarded for his statement of the law of the conservation of energy, as well as his theories of vision.


Early Life and Education:

Born at Potsdam, Prussia, Hermann von Helmholtz’s father was a gymnasium headmaster who had also studied philosophy and philology. Helmholtz acquired his degree in medicine from Berlin in 1842, as per his father’s wishes. He served as a surgeon in the military until 1847.

Contributions and Achievements:

Hermann von Helmholtz published his famous physics treatise on the “Conservation of Energy”, in which he traces incidentally the history of the idea as formulated by Mayer, Joule and himself. In 1850, he was appointed as the Professor of Physiology and General Pathology at Koenigsberg. He invented the ophthalmoscope one year later in 1851.

He accepted another teaching position at Bonn in 1885, while he took the chair of Physiology at Heidelberg in 1859. Helmholtz’s finding regarding human sight earned his fame and he also investigated the mechanical causes of vocal sounds.

His contributions to electricity and magnetism brought out his belief that classical mechanics was perhaps the ideal mode of scientific reasoning. He became the first German scientist to value the great work of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell in electrodynamics. Helmholtz took the mathematics of electrodynamics to new heights of excellence.

He was made the Professor of Physics at Berlin in 1871. He was also awarded the title of nobility, “von Helmholtz”, in 1883. The theory of the conservation of energy which he formulated is considered as one of the broadest and most important generalizations ever known in the history of science.

Later Life and Death:

Hermann von Helmholtz spent his later life trying to cut down all of electrodynamics to a minimum set of mathematical principles, however without success.

Helmholtz died on September 8, 1894. He was 73 years old.