Hendrik Antoon Lorentz is one of the most important scientists in the recent history of the Netherlands, with discoveries which contributed to physics as we know it today and which influenced such illustrious figures as Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford.
Widely devoted to both science and language, Lorentz contributed to the scientific landscape of his time by publishing several books on his scientific discoveries not only in his native Dutch language, but also in French, German and English.
Described as versatile, kind and charismatic by his contemporaries, Lorentz went down in history as the one who reinforced the idea that electromagnetism and light were related to negatively charged subatomic particles, electrons. Today we will find out what his life was like this biography of Hendrik Antoon Lorentz in summary form.
Brief biography of Hendrik Antoon Lorentz
Hendrik Antoon Lorentz was a Dutch physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1902. Lorentz’s discoveries were a huge step in the development of electromagnetic theory, and he gave theoretical and practical impetus to several important discoveries of the century last, including Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Hendrik Antoon Lorentz was born on July 18, 1853 in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Her parents were Gerrit Frederik Lorentz, a wealthy horticulturalist, and Geertruida van Ginkel, who died when Lorentz was only four years old. When his wife died, Gerrit Lorentz remarried Luberta Hupkes.
As a child, Hendrik Antoon attended two of the three daily shifts at the local school. When the first high school opened in his hometown in 1866, the young Lorentz was ready to start his third year. He was an excellent student, with spectacular results not only for sciences such as mathematics and physics, but also for French, German and English.
University training and academic life
At the end of the fifth and final year of high school, Hendrik Antoon Lorentz studied classical languages, which was necessary in his day to be able to pursue university studies. He enrolled in the University of Leiden in 1870 and only a year later received a degree in mathematics and physics.. In 1872 he returned to his native Arnhem to teach afternoon math at the local high school.
At that time he was preparing his doctoral thesis on the reflection and refraction of light, entitled in Dutch “Over de theorie der terugkaatsing a breking van het licht”. In this thesis, he explained with great clarity a concept which had not yet been translated into Dutch, and he also dared to perfect the electromagnetic theory proposed by James C. Maxwell. He defended his thesis in 1875 and obtained his doctorate at the age of only 22.
In 1878, he was appointed professor at the University of Leyden, responsible for the new department of theoretical physics of the institution.. In his inaugural reading he spoke about molecular theories in physics, an important text in the history of Dutch physics entitled “De molecular theoriën in de natuurkunde” (Molecular theories in physics).
In 1880, Henrik Lorentz established the relationship between the polarization of a molecule and the refractive index of a substance composed of molecules having that polarization. This discovery was made in the same way as the Danish physicist Ludwig Valentin Lorenz, who worked independently. For this reason, this relationship is known as the Lorenz-Lorentz formula.
In 1881, Lorentz was admitted to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. That same year he married Aletta Catharina Kaiser, daughter of JW Kaiser, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, who later became director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Kaiser was an illustrious personage, who would get to be the designer of the first postage stamps of Holland.
During his first twenty years in Leiden, Henrik Antoon Lorentz devoted himself to the study of the electromagnetic theory of electricity, magnetism and light. After a while, he ended up expanding his research to a variety of topics, including hydrodynamics and general relativity. His greatest contributions were electromagnetism, electron theory and relativity.
At this time, Lorentz’s intention was to develop a unique theory that would explain the relationship between electricity, magnetism, and light. For this reason, in 1892 he published Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory and its application to moving bodies, which, as the title suggests, was based on Maxwell’s studies and stated that the phenomena of electricity are due to the movement of elementary electric particles. , electrons, a term originally coined by George Johnstone Stoney.
At that time, it was known that electromagnetic radiation was produced by the oscillation of electric charges, but the charges that generated light were still unknown. It was assumed that an electric current was made up of charged particles, Hendrik Antoon Lorentz he deduced that the atoms of matter must be charged particles and predicted, in 1892, that the oscillations of these particles must be the source of light..
Lorentz argued that if, instead of using Galileo’s transformations, others were used, Maxwell’s equations approximating the propagation of light were invariant, so the ether should not be used as a reference system. His proposal, which would later be called the Lorentz transformations, related the coordinates of space and time. used to describe electromagnetic phenomena when they pass from one fixed system to another equipped with constant speed.
This not only explained the perceived lack of relative motion of the Earth with respect to the ether, as the experiments of Albert Abraham Michelson and Edward Morley indicate, but also helped Albert Einstein later come up with the theory of relativity.
Lorentz transformations are so important in physics because the equations of mechanics were variable, which until then seemed absurd. These formulas describe the increase in mass, shortening of length and dilation of time that are characteristic of a moving object. These ideas laid the groundwork for Einstein’s special theory, and in fact some consider Hendrik Antoon Lorentz to be its forerunner.
Discovery of the Zeeman effect and the Nobel Prize
During the 1880s Lorentz commissioned his student and personal assistant Pieter Zeeman to study whether a strong magnetic field could affect the oscillations and wavelengths of light. What Zeeman observed in 1986 was that the sodium D-lines of a flame decompose under a strong magnetic field, which led him to formulate what is today called the Zeeman effect. . This postulates that if a light source is subjected to a magnetic field, the spectral lines of different wavelengths are broken down into several components, with slightly different frequencies.
With this discovery, Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1902. This recognition was made for his great work on the influence of magnetism on radiation phenomena, a contribution that would be crucial for physics at the beginning of the 20th century, so much so that Einstein would serve to further develop his theory of relativity. . Today.
In 1907, while in Leipzig, Germany, he published several memoirs under the title “Abhandlungen über theoretische Physik” (Treatises on theoretical physics). In 1909, he published his book Theory of Electrons. Between 1919 and 1920, he published five volumes in which he gathered his lessons in theoretical physics at the University of Leyden.
The last years and death
In 1908 Hendrik Antoon Lorentz was awarded the Rumford Medal and the Copley medal, awarded by the Royal Society of London in honor of his scientific work and his excellent achievements in physics. In 1912, Lorentz was appointed director of research at the Teyler Institute in Haarlem and secretary of the Dutch Science Society. Despite his new post, he continued to work as an honorary professor at Leiden University, giving a class every Monday morning.
In 1919, Lorentz was appointed chairman of the committee for the study of seawater movements to be organized during and after the recovery of the Zuiderzee dike, one of the greatest hydraulic engineering works of all time. His theoretical calculations, which were the result of eight years of arduous research, have been confirmed in practice. and since then they have become a classic in hydraulic science.
Despite numerous offers of chairs to practice abroad, Hendrik Antoon Lorentz preferred to stay in his native Holland, working at the University of Leiden until his retirement in 1923. He would continue as professor emeritus of the institution until when he died.
In 1923, Lorentz was elected a member of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, an organ of the League of Nations (the UN before World War II). This committee was composed exclusively of the most illustrious and gifted academics. Lorentz became its president in 1925. In addition, he was president of all the Solvay congresses, conferences where the most eminent scientists of the time met.
In January 1928 Hendrik Antoon Lorentz fell seriously ill and died on February 4 of the same year in Haarlem., at the age of 74. The funeral took place on February 10, chaired by Sir Ernest Rutherford on behalf of the Royal Society. When the last bell rang at noon, all telegraph and telephone services in the Netherlands paused for three minutes in homage to the greatest Dutch citizen of the time.
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- Janssen, M. (1992). “HA Lorentz’s attempt to give a generalized formulation without coordinates. Theory of relativity.” Studies in the history of general relativity. Boston: Birkhäuser. pages 344-363. ISBN 978-0817634797
- Macrossan, Minnesota (1986). A note on relativity before Einstein ”, Br. J. Philos. Sci., 37 (2): 232–34, CiteSeerX 10.1.1.679.5898, doi: 10.1093 / bjps / 37.2.23