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Gustav Robert Kirchhoff. A Brief Digest of His Life and Work by Mike Rasmussen. Vital Statistics. Born: 12 March 1824, Königsberg, Prussia Christened: 11 April 1824 Father: Friedrich Kirchhoff (lawyer) Mother: Johanna Henriette Wittke

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gustav robert kirchhoff

Gustav Robert Kirchhoff

A Brief Digest of His Life and Work

by Mike Rasmussen

vital statistics
Vital Statistics
  • Born: 12 March 1824, Königsberg, Prussia
  • Christened: 11 April 1824
  • Father: Friedrich Kirchhoff (lawyer)
  • Mother: Johanna Henriette Wittke
  • Married: 1847, to Clara Richelot (his math professor’s daughter – good reason to study math!)
  • Died: 17 October 1887, Berlin
  • Temple work: Done several times, 1929-2001. (Often just sealed to Mr. and Mrs. Kirchhoff – good reason to study physics!)
scientific contributions in brief
Scientific contributions in brief
  • Kirchhoff’s Law (Thermodynamics)
  • Kirchhoff’s Circuit Laws
  • Spectroscopy (with Bunsen)
  • Fresnel-Kirchhoff diffraction formula.
kirchhoff s law thermodynamics
Kirchhoff’s Law (Thermodynamics)
  • At thermal equilibrium, light emitted equals light absorbed.
  • (Otherwise it wouldn’t be at equilibrium.)
  • So, black bodies are great emitters.
  • And “Space Blankets” are good at not emitting.
kirchhoff s circuit laws
Kirchhoff’s Circuit Laws
  • The Sum of voltage rises and drops around a loop equals zero.
  • (Energy is conserved.)
  • Currents entering a junction are equal to currents leaving a junction.
  • (Charge is conserved, similar to thermodynamic law. Remember, a lot of people thought charge was like heat, and might accumulate at a junction.)
  • So, we can do circuit analysis.
  • Obvious, but useful – maybe we can all get laws named after us someday!

“Two old telescopes, a prism, and a cigar box”

a great spectroscopy experiment
A Great Spectroscopy Experiment
  • Burned highly purified sodium, observed two strong yellow lines
  • Lit a Drummond light, which is a stick of lime heated by a flame to white hot – it radiates nearly as a black body, with no dark lines
  • Lit a sodium flame in between the “limelight” and the spectroscope, and observed two dark lines – the sodium absorbed more energy than it emitted
spectroscopy results
Spectroscopy results
  • Identified Fraunhofer’s yellow lines in several lamp spectra as sodium emission
  • Identified Fraunhofer’s dark lines in the solar spectrum as absorption
  • Identified the chemical content of the sun
  • Identified Cesium and Rubidium
fresnel kirchhoff diffraction formula
Fresnel-Kirchhoff diffraction formula.
  • Fresnel derived a formula for diffraction by applying Newton’s calculus to Huygen’s wavelets.
  • In 1887, Kirchhoff used Maxwell’s Equations to justify Fresnel’s formula.
  • Hence, it was named after both Fresnel and Kirchhoff.
  • Apparently, it killed him, as he died that year.