Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

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Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (born September 21, 1853 in Groningen , † February 21, 1926 in Leiden ) was a Dutch physicist and Nobel Prize winner for physics .


Kamerlingh Onnes was born as the son of the brick manufacturer Harm Kamerlingh Onnes (born June 24, 1819 in Groningen; † October 5, 1880 in Dunsborg) and his wife Anna Gerdina Coers (born July 12, 1829 in Arnhem; † April 10, 1899 in Zoeterwoude) born. He attended the high school in Groningen, began his studies at the Reichsuniversität Groningen in 1870 and switched to Heidelberg University for a few semesters from 1871 to 1873 (with Gustav Robert Kirchhoff and Robert Wilhelm Bunsen ), where he was able to win a seminar prize. On July 12, 1879, he received his doctorate with the treatise Nieuwe bewijzen voor de aswenteling der aarde ("New evidence for the rotation of the earth") to the philosophical doctor of physics. In 1878 he was an assistant at the polytechnic school in Delft, and in 1882 he was appointed professor of experimental physics at the University of Leiden. He took on this task on November 11, 1882 with the introductory speech Over de beteekenis van het quantitatief onderzoek in de natuurkunde ("On the importance of quantitative research in physics"). Here he worked closely with the theorist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz . In 1903/04 he was rector of the University of Leiden . In 1883 he was accepted into the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW). In 1916 he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society , in 1920 of the National Academy of Sciences and the Académie des Sciences . In 1921 he became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and in 1922 a corresponding member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences and in 1925 both a member of the Leopoldina and a corresponding foreign member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR . He was an elected member of the American Philosophical Society since 1914.

Kamerlingh Onnes married on September 8, 1887 in The Hague Maria Adriana Wilhelmina Elisa Bijleveld (* May 6, 1861 in Brielle; † December 7, 1938 in Leiden), the daughter of the Hague judge Rudolf Theodoor Bijleveld (* September 22, 1835 in The Hague; † March 7, 1920 ibid) and Jacoba Wilhelmina Hartman (born October 14, 1837 in The Hague; † February 27, 1906 ibid). The son Albert Harm Kamerlingh Onnes (born July 5, 1888 in Zoeterwoude, † May 25, 1956 in The Hague) is known from their marriage. on February 5, 1920 in The Hague with Janette Casperine Marianne Bijleveld (born January 5, 1900 in Streatham, † December 13, 1967 in Elspeet).

The main achievements: helium liquefaction and discovery of superconductivity

Kamerlingh Onnes' main field of work was the liquefaction of gases and the determination of the related correction terms for pressure and volume in the Van der Waals equation . This required knowledge of the gases over the largest possible temperature range, especially in the low temperature range . From 1894, Kamerlingh Onnes had a cold bath of liquid oxygen (90.18 K = −182.97 ° C) and from 1906 liquid nitrogen (77.35 K = −195.80 ° C).

Finally, on July 10, 1908, he was the first to produce liquid helium (boiling point: 4.22 K = −268.93 ° C) and cooled it down further to 0.95 K (−272.3 ° C).

For the Van der Waals equation, Kamerlingh Onnes proposed a series expansion that should also extend to gas mixtures and to mixtures of gases and liquids. For this purpose, the molecular forces of attraction, capillarity and viscosity had to be included as correction elements. The work program of the research group in Leiden was expanded accordingly to include phenomena such as electrical conductivity at low temperatures and the temperature dependency of the thermal effect .

On April 8, 1911, during experiments with liquid helium, Kamerlingh Onnes made the discovery that when mercury drops below the transition temperature of 4.183 K, i.e. slightly below the boiling point of helium, the resistance to electric current disappears in mercury . This was how Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity .

Around 1911, Kamerlingh Onnes also made the discovery that liquid helium ( 4 He-II) slowly moves upward as a thin film (so-called Rollin film ) on the walls of the vessel. This phenomenon is known as the Onnes effect . With this, Kamerlingh Onnes recognized an essential property of superfluidity .

In 1913 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his investigations into the properties of matter at low temperatures , which among other things led to the production of liquid helium." In 1925 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina .


"Door meten dead weten" - "Through measurement to knowledge" , the motto of his laboratory.


A moon crater on the back of the moon is named after Heike Kamerlingh Onnes .


  • Dirk van Delft: Freezing physics. Heike Kamerlingh Onnes and the quest for cold , KNAW, Amsterdam 2007, pdf (English translation by Dirk van Delft: Kamerlingh Onnes. Een biography, Amsterdam: Bert Bakker 2005)
  • Stefan Jorda: Cold and precious. In: Physik-Journal. 7, 7, 2008, ISSN  1617-9439 , pp. 27-30 ( PDF; 1.29 MB ).
  • Entry in the Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland (Dutch)
  • Kostas Gavroglu, Yorgos Goudaroulis (Ed.): Through Measurement to Knowledge. Selected Papers of Heike Kamerlingh Onnes 1853-1926 , Boston studies in the history of science 124, Kluwer 1991

Web links

Commons : Heike Kamerlingh Onnes  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. KNAW Past Members: Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, accessed October 21, 2018 .
  2. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed March 26, 2020 .
  3. ^ Member entry by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on October 21, 2018.
  4. ^ Members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724: Kamerlingh Onnes, Heike. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed October 21, 2018 (Russian).
  5. 100 years of superconductivity, 25 years of high-temperature superconductivity. https://www.helmholtz.de/presse/schwerpunkt_themen/archiv/supraleitung/ ( Memento from May 15, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) , Helmholtz Association, Updates, accessed on April 8, 2011
  6. Dirk van Delft, Peter Kes: The discovery of superconductivity (PDF; 576 kB) . In: Physics Today , Vol. 63, Issue 9, September 2010, pp. 38-43.
  7. Kamerlingh-Onnes the-moon.wikispaces.com, accessed March 20, 2012