Otto von Guericke (1602-1686)
A German physicist, engineer, and natural philosopher who was most known for his studies of air pressure. He invented the first air pump and used it to study vacuum and the role of air in combustion and respiration.
Guericke was born on November 20, 1602, in Magdeburg, Prussian Saxony (East Germany). He developed his education in Germany and studied law at the University of Leipzig; he continued his studies at the University of Jena in 1621; and studied mathematics at the University of Leyden in 1623. By the age of 25, von Guericke was chosen alderman of Magdeburg. He visited France and England, and in 1630 became engineer-in-chief at Erfurt. One year later, he became an engineer in the army of Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden. He was mayor (burgermeister) of Magdeburg and magistrate for Bradenburg from 1646 to 1681.
Guericke's interest in studying air pressure actually arose from the experiments and discoveries of Blaise Pascal, a French scientist and the Italian scientists, Galileo and Evangelista Torricelli in relation with atmospheric pressure. Due to this he worked on the properties of air and the creation of a vacuum.
After much experimentation, by 1650, Guericke created the first air pump that he used to build a partial vacuum. With his investigation and studies he demonstrated that light travels through a vacuum and sound does not. Four years later, before the Emperor Ferdinand III (Imperial Diet) at Regensburg, he attained the famous demonstration of the Magdeburg hemispheres. These consisted of two bronze bowls fitted together forming a vacuous sphere and a pump, which remove the air from the hemisphere. After the air was expulsed out of the sphere the bowls were unable to disjoin. In addition, he attempted this experiment by using horses to try to pull the bowls apart, but did not succeed. This was even though these two bowls were held together only by the air around them. Hence, the tremendous force that air pressure exerts was first ascertained.
Besides investigating other phenomena related with a vacuum, he constructed, in 1663, the first electric generator, which produced static electricity by applying friction against a rotating ball of sulfur. Nine years later, he discovered that electricity could cause the surface of the sulfur ball to glow. Thus, he was the first person to view electroluminiscence.
Guericke also investigated other fields of science. In 1672, he developed the first machine for producing an electric charge. He also made successful researches in astronomy, predicting that comets would return regularly from outer space.
By 1681, he gave up office and retired to Hamburg. He remained here until his death on May 11,1686.
Some of his observations can be found in his work Experimenta nova ut vocant, Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio (1672). He also wrote Geschichte der Belagerung and Eroverung von Magdeburg.
© 2000 by ThinkQuest team C006011