Friedrich Robert Helmert

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Friedrich Robert Helmert

Friedrich Robert Helmert (born July 31, 1843 in Freiberg, Saxony , † June 15, 1917 in Potsdam ) was a German geodesist and mathematician .

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Memorial stone for Friedrich Robert Helmert on Telegrafenberg near Potsdam

Helmert is considered the founder of the mathematical and physical theories of modern geodesy and was the first to develop the basics of the methods of geoid determination . However, due to the lack of suitable measuring instruments suitable for use in the field, they could only be carried out on a larger scale a few decades later. Helmert founded the now classic definition of geodesy as the science of measuring and mapping the earth's surface .

To Helmert most important works is a two-volume, 1880 published textbook , in which he Theoretical Geodesy justified, a rapidly verbreitendes book on the Adjustment of the method of least squares and treatises to coordinate transformations . A method often used to this day, the so-called Helmert transformation , was named after him . The vertical deviation defined as the angle between the gravitational vector and the ellipsoid normal in a surface point is named after him, as is the Helmert ellipsoid , with which the leading geodesist of his time was able to specify the axes of the earth's ellipsoid more precisely than other scientists did in the following 50 Years succeeded.

Memorial plaque on the Helmertplatz in Freiberg

As director of the Geodetic Institute Potsdam (1886–1917) Helmert made Potsdam the world center for scientific geodesy. He defined it - which is essentially still accepted today - as the science of the earth's figure and the earth's gravity field . The Potsdam absolute value of the acceleration due to gravity was the international reference value from 1909 to 1971 (“ Potsdam gravity value ”).

Born in Freiberg, he studied from 1859 to 1863 at what was then the Royal Saxon Polytechnic School in Dresden under August Nagel , he received his doctorate in Leipzig in 1867 with the thesis "Studies on rational measurements in the field of higher geodesy". Through his intelligence and his outstanding hard work, he already gained recognition during this time, which was expressed in the award of commendation decrees.

Helmert was also President of the Central Bureau of International Geometric Surveying , a full member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences , a foreign member of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg (since 1907) and the Académie des Sciences (since 1899) as well as professor at the TH Aachen (1870–1886) and at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin . In 1886 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina .

It is probably the most frequently cited geodesist of all time, but from today's perspective - as Karl Ledersteger discovered in 1970 - his work suffers from its somewhat cumbersome mathematical diction. This is probably due to the fact that Helmert first had to develop suitable theories for a large number of geodetic tasks.

In addition, the introduction of the chi-square distribution in 1876 ​​is attributed to Helmert, even if the name comes from Karl Pearson (1900).


The lunar crater Helmert is named after him, as is the astronomical-geodetic observation tower on the Telegrafenberg in Potsdam ( Helmert Tower ) and Helmertplatz in his native Freiberg. In Potsdam, Professor-Doktor-Helmert-Strasse has had his name since November 6, 2001, in Karlsruhe since 1960 and in Mannheim since 1982, Helmertstrasse.

On July 8, 2013, in Berne near Bremen , the new building of approx. The 42 m long survey vessel was christened FUGRO HELMERT and launched. He has been the namesake of the Helmertbank in the Antarctic Weddell Sea since 1997 .

The DVW - Society for Geodesy, Geoinformation and Land Management awards the Helmert commemorative coin to important geodesists on very special occasions.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death, a georeference point was set up in Freiberg in 2017 .

Helmert's grave in the old cemetery in Potsdam

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Web links

Commons : Friedrich Robert Helmert  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Stochastikon GmbH: Biography of Friedrich Robert Helmert ( Memento from April 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 77 kB)
  2. ^ FR Helmert. In: Zeitschrift fuer Math. Und Physik 21, 1876, pp. 102-219. Karl Pearson: On the Criterion that a Given System of Deviations from the Probable in the Case of a Correlated System of Variables is such that it Can Reasonably Be Supposed to have Arisen from Random Sampling. In: Philosophical Magazine  5, Volume 50, 1900, pp. 157-175. Quoted from L. Butterer: Mathematical Statistics . Springer, Vienna 1966, p. 93.