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Ludwig Boltzmann

Ludwig Boltzmann was a renowned physicist born in Austria on February 20, 1844. He devoted his life to theories and education with regard to physics. He studied with many great names while attending the University of Vienna.


Ludwig Boltzmann

Among them was Joseph Stefan, who later became Boltzmann's mentor and friend. In addition to helping Boltzmann with his doctoral degree, Stefan played an important role in his continuing career, getting him work at the University of Graz as the Professor of Mathematical Physics. Boltzmann's personal life was filled with his wife and five children.

Henriette von Aigentler, the woman who would become Boltzmann's wife, shared his love of learning and teaching. They met while she was petitioning to attend classes as a guest since women were not allowed as university students in Austria at the time. She was encouraged to keep trying by Boltzmann.

She eventually won her case and Boltzmann. They were married four years after they met, producing five children. Henriette bore two sons and three daughters. Meanwhile, Boltzmann continued to advance among his colleagues. The family moved every few years, giving Boltzmann many opportunities professionally.

In his lifetime, Boltzmann had many who disagreed with him. Wilhelm Ostwald was one. Ernst Mach was another. The difference between the two was that Ostwald and Boltzmann only disagreed professionally, whereas Mach was considered a personal foe of Boltzmann in addition to being one professionally. Boltzmann left Vienna in 1900 to avoid working with Mach any further and went to Leipzig to work with Ostwald instead.

During these latter parts of Boltzmann's life, his theories were being consistently questioned, giving him the job of defending his work. Boltzmann returned to Vienna after Mach's health forced him to quit teaching. Once there, Boltzmann took over his prior subject of physics and branched out to include Mach's former classes in philosophy, becoming a popular lecturer on the subject.

Boltzmann's professional achievements included memberships in the Imperial Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and presidency of the University of Graz. He held professorships at multiple universities with great prestige, including Munich, Vienna, Berlin, and Heidelberg. He is one of the three men responsible for creating the Austrian Mathematical Society.

Perhaps Boltzmann's greatest professional achievement was the development of statistical mechanics. He was the first to systematically describe the thermodynamic properties of atoms in relation to macroscopic materials.

Though it is often said that Boltzmann was well-respected among his colleagues, it is also thought that he felt their criticisms too strongly. Boltzmann was a lifetime sufferer of depression, with mood swings that may have contributed to both his brilliance and his somewhat nomadic career preferences.

The end of Boltzmann's long and significant career came to a sad and decisive end on September 5, 1906, when it was discovered that he had hanged himself. Even more sadly is the fact that Boltzmann ended his life just shortly before experimentation proved that his theories were not all ideas. He had a history of suicide attempts and many have thought that this time it was his belief in the lack of agreement with his theories that drove Ludwig Boltzmann to successfully take his own life while visiting the beach with Henriette and one of his daughters.


Rumor Has It

Ludwig Boltzmann liked to dance the Cha cha cha with his cat named Fred while balancing a ping pong ball on his nose. True story. Almost.

Written by Kevin Lepton


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

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