Rudolf Clausius: biography and contributions of this German physicist and mathematician

Considered one of the founding fathers of thermodynamics, Rudolf Clausius is one of the most eminent figures not only of German physics of the 19th century, but also of European science of his century.

Very gifted in both physics and mathematics, he was an example to be followed by other scientists like the Scottish James Maxwell, one of the scholars of electromagnetic theory.

Below you will find one biography of Rudolf Clausius in which we will see what were his main contributions to the field of physics.

    Brief biography of Rudolf Clausius

    Rudolf Clausius was a German physicist and mathematician known to be one of the founders of thermodynamics, being the one who formulated the second of the laws that make up these principles.. He, along with other illustrious figures such as British physicists William Thomson, Lord Kelvin and James Joule, developed these laws of physics, with French physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot being credited with proposing the first of the laws of thermodynamics.

    The most relevant studies by Rudolf Clausius have focused on the effect of heat on different fluids and materials and posed the kinetic theory on the behavior of atoms and molecules.

    Birth and early years

    Rudolph Julius Emmanuel Clausius was born on January 2, 1822 in Köslin, Prussia, now Koszalin, Poland.. His father was Protestant and was responsible for a small school where the young Rudolf Clausius attended during his early formative years.

    He then entered the gymnasium (German high school) in the city of Szczecin, now Szczecin in Poland, where he continued his studies.

    University education

    In 1840, he entered the University of Berlin. There he started taking history lessons, but soon switched to science and was taught by physicist Georg Simon Ohm and mathematician Richard Dedekind.

    Studying mathematics and physics, Clausius discovered that these were branches of knowledge which were particularly well transmitted to him, which made it his profession when he finished his studies in Berlin in 1844.

    Clausius he studied at the University of Halle, obtaining a doctorate in physics here in 1847 through his work on the optical effects that occur on planet Earth due to the existence of the atmosphere. Although this work presents some errors in terms of approach, it served Clausius to show that he possessed great talents for mathematics and physics, becoming a reputation among the German scientific community.

      The first scientific research

      Rudolf Clausius’ first experimental steps began in 1849 with the study of the laws governing the relations between pressure and temperature. Later would be devoted to the study of different substances and at what temperature they take to boil, by plotting the first boiling curves.

      His life began to take on particular importance in the scientific field of his country from 1850, when he obtained a post as professor of physics at the Royal School of Engineering and Artillery in Berlin, where he was remained until 1855. In addition to this post, Rudolf Clausius also worked at the University of Berlin as a private lecturer, a professor who could teach at the university but whose fees were paid directly by his students instead. by the institution.

      The highlight of this period in Rudolf Clausius’s life was the publication in 1850 of what will be his most important work: “On the forces of motion caused by heat“.

        Develop kinetic theory

        In 1855, Clausius left Germany and became a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Two years later focused on the study of the field of kinetic theory, experimented at that time with the concept of “mean free path of a particle”, term which designates the distance between two meetings, one after the other, of the molecules which compose a gas. This contribution by Clausius would be very relevant to the field of physics of his time.

        Rudolf Clausius will stay for several years at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, where he will teach physics. He will change location in 1867, moving to Würzburg, where he will also work as a teacher until 1869 and obtaining a membership in the Royal Society of London in 1868, because his fame and his research were already known in Europe. He would go to the University of Bonn to teach physics, where he would work for the rest of his life.

        Working in Bonn when, at the age of 50, the Franco-Prussian war broke out (1870-1871). During the conflict, he organized, with several students, a corps of volunteer ambulance. As a result of his involvement in the war, Clausius suffered a leg injury, which caused him great discomfort for the rest of his life. However, his injury earned him recognition from German society and, thanks to his heroic actions, Rudolf Clausius was awarded the Iron Cross.

          The last years and death

          During his last years of life, Rudolf Clausius devoted himself to his children and put aside some research.. Moreover, with the war wound suffered during the war, he could not move easily, which made him prefer to stay in Bonn instead of traveling as much as he did in his youth. However, Clausius continued to teach at the University of Bonn until his death.

          Rodolf Clausius d.24 Aug. 1888 in Bonn, Germany, aged 66. His first wife, Adelheid Rimpau, died in 1875, leaving him in the care of his six children, and Clausius remarried in 1886, this time to Sophie Stack with whom he had a son.

          Thanks to this physicist and mathematician

          In 1870 Rudolf Clausius won the Huygens Medal and in 1879 the Copley Medal., recognition given by the Royal Society of London to those who have made significant contributions in the field of biology or physics.

          In 1878 he was appointed member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and in 1882 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Würzburg. In 1883, he received the Poncelet Prize, awarded by the French Academy of Sciences to all scientists who have made a significant contribution to science in general. Rudolf Clausius continued to receive honors long after his death. In 1935, a crater on the Moon was named after him: Clausius Crater.

          Scientific contributions of Rudolf Clausius

          Rudolf Clausius’ contributions to physics are diverse. Below, we’ll take a look at the highlights of his findings and theories.

          Kinetic theory of gases

          In 1857 he published the first complete theory of the kinetic theory of matter. This is why he used statistical mechanics, establishing an ideal model for the structure of gases. Applying the laws of mechanics, Clausius deduced the external or macroscopic behavior of these gases from hypotheses on the statistical behavior of the molecules of these fluids.

          He deduced that because molecular collisions occur between mobile and elastic molecules, at all times there will be molecules inside the gas moving in all directions and at all possible speeds.. The total energy of translation of these molecules gives the measure of the caloric content of the gas, and its kinetic energy depends directly on the temperature of the gas.

          It is believed that Clausius’ work on the individual molecules of gases was crucial in the design of the kinetic theory of gases. Kinetic theory was originally developed by James Maxwell in 1859, but is notoriously based on the work of Rudolf Clausius.. Interestingly, this same theory was criticized by Clausius, who helped Maxwell update his kinetic theory in 1867.

          Another contribution of Clausius in this field was to develop a criterion of differentiation between atoms and molecules. According to him, gas molecules were complex bodies, the building blocks of which move. Today the idea of ​​a molecule is a particle made up of other atoms, something very common in gases like oxygen, nitrogen or hydrogen, and also other substances like water or ozone.

          Second law of thermodynamics

          Along with other great scientists of his time, Rudolf Clausius is considered one of the founding fathers of thermodynamics.. He is credited with having proposed the second law of these principles which states that heat can never change from a colder body to a hotter body.

          This principle, also known as the entropy principle, a concept he himself introduced and defined in 1865, states that, in practice, the technique of the process of changing the heat of a body to a higher temperature that other than it is also lower, it cannot be done in reverse without permanent changes to the environment.

          One of the deductions from this principle is that the energy released when the temperature goes from one value Ta to another Tb is that it is not completely transformed into mechanical energy, and the energy yield of this transformation is at most 1-Tb / Ta. This solved one of the main physics problems of its day, with scientists theorizing whether or not it was possible to completely convert thermal energy into mechanical work.

          Bibliographical references

          • Daub, E. (1970). Entropy and dissipation. Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 2: 321-354.
          • Ketabgian T. (2017). The energy of belief: the invisible universe Spirit of thermodynamics. In Strange Science (pp. 254-278).
          • Klein M. Gibbs on Clausius. (1969). Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 1: 127-149.
          • Wolfe E. Clausius and Maxwell’s kinetic gas theory. Historical studies in physical sciences. 1970; 2: 299-319.
          • The mathematical method of Yagi E. Clausius and the mechanical theory of heat. Historical studies in physical sciences. 1984; 15 (1): 177-195.
          • Encyclone (sf). Clausius, Rudolf Julius (1822-1888). Biographies of the MCN.

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