Painting of Hendrik Lorentz by Menso Kamerlingh Onnes
|Born||July 18, 1853 |
|Died||February 4, 1928 |
|Institution||University of Leiden|
|Alma Mater||University of Leiden|
|Academic Advisor||Petrus Leonardus Rijke|
|Notable Students||Geertruida L. de Haas-Lorentz |
|Known for||Theory of EM radiation|
|Notable Prizes||Nobel Prize for Physics (1902)|
Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (July 18, 1853, Arnhem – February 4, 1928, Haarlem) was a Dutch physicist who shared the 1902 Nobel Prize in Physics with Pieter Zeeman for the discovery and elucidation of the Zeeman effect.
Hendrik Lorentz was born in Arnhem, Gelderland, son of Gerrit Frederik Lorentz (1822 – 1893), a shopkeeper, and Geertruida van Ginkel (1826 – 1861). In 1862, after his mother's death, his father married Luberta Hupkes. From 1866-1869 he attended the newly established high school in Arnhem, and in 1870 he passed the exams in classical languages which were then required for admission to University.
Lorentz studied physics and mathematics at the University of Leiden, where he was strongly influenced by the teaching of astronomy professor Frederik Kaiser; it was his influence that led him to become a physicist. After earning a bachelor's degree, he returned to Arnhem in 1872 to teach high school classes in mathematics, but he continued his studies in Leiden next to his teaching position. In 1875 Lorentz earned a doctoral degree under Pieter Rijke on a thesis entitled "Over de theorie der terugkaatsing en breking van het licht" (On the theory of reflection and refraction of light), in which he refined the electromagnetic theory of James Clerk Maxwell.
In 1881 Hendrik married Aletta Catharina Kaiser, niece of Frederik Kaiser. She was the daughter of Johann Wilhelm Kaiser, director of the Amsterdam's Engraving School and professor of Fine Arts, and designer of the first Dutch postage stamps (1852). Later Kaiser was the Director of the National Gallery of Amsterdam. Hendrik and Aletta's eldest daughter Geertruida Luberta Lorentz was to become a physicist as well.
In 1878, only 24 years of age, Lorentz was appointed to the newly established chair in theoretical physics at the University of Leiden. On January 25, 1878 he delivered his inaugural lecture on "De moleculaire theoriën in de natuurkunde" (The molecular theories in physics).
During the first twenty years in Leiden Lorentz was primarily interested in the theory of electromagnetism, to explain the relationship of electricity, magnetism, and light. After that he extended his research to a much wider area while still focussing on theoretical physics. From his publications it appears that Lorentz made contributions to mechanics, thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, kinetic theories, solid state theory, light, and propagation. His most important contributions were in the area of electromagnetism, the electron theory, and relativity.
Lorentz theorized that the atoms might consist of charged particles and suggested that the oscillations of these charged particles were the source of light. This was experimentally proven in 1896 by Pieter Zeeman, a colleague and former student of Lorentz. His name is now associated with the Lorentz-Lorenz formula, the Lorentz force, the Lorentzian distribution, and the Lorentz transformation.
In 1895 in an attempt to explain the Michelson-Morley experiment, Lorentz proposed that moving bodies contract in the direction of motion (see length contraction; George FitzGerald had already arrived at this conclusion, see FitzGerald-Lorentz Contraction). He introduced the term local time which expresses the relativity of simultaneity between reference frames in relative motion. Henri Poincaré in 1900 called Lorentz's local time a "wonderful invention" and showed how it arose when clocks in moving frames are synchronized by exchanging light signals which are assumed to travel with the same speed against and with the motion of the frame. In 1899 and again in 1904 Lorentz added time dilation to his transformations and published what Poincaré in 1905 named the Lorentz transformations. It was apparently unknown to Lorentz that Joseph Larmor had predicted time dilation, at least for orbiting electrons, and published the identical transformations in 1897. Larmor's and Lorentz's equations look unfamilar, but are algebraically equivalent to those presented by Poincaré and Einstein in 1905 (see Macrossan (1986)). These mathematical formulas describe basic effects of the theory of Special relativity, namely the increase of mass, shortening of length, and time dilation that are characteristic of a moving body, all of which Lorentz had discussed in his 1899 publication.
Mass increase was the first prediction of special relativity to be tested, but from early experiments by Kaufmann it appeared that his prediction was wrong; this led Lorentz to the famous remark that he was "at the end of his Latin." Its confirmation had to wait until 1908.In 1909,he published "Theory of Electrons" based on a series of lectures as Ernest Kempton Adams Lecturer in Mathematical Physics at Columbia University.
Poincaré (1902) said of Lorentz's theory of electrodynamics
Paul Langevin (1911) said of Lorentz
which nowadays could easily be mistaken for a reference to Einstein. Lorentz was chairman of the first Solvay Conference held in Brussels in the autumn of 1911. Shorty after the conference, Poincaré wrote an essay on quantum physics which gives an indication of Lorentz's status at the time:
In the same essay Poincaré lists the enduring aspects of Lorentzian mechanics:
Thus Dingle remarked:
In 1912 Lorentz retired early to become director of research at Teylers Museum in Haarlem, although he remained external professor at Leiden and gave weekly lectures there. Paul Ehrenfest succeeded him in his chair at the University of Leiden, founding the Institute for Theoretical Physics which would become known as the Lorentz Institute. In addition to the Nobel prize, Lorentz received a great many honours for his outstanding work. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1905. The Society awarded him their Rumford Medal in 1908 and their Copley Medal in 1918.
While Lorentz is mostly known for fundamental theoretical work, he also had an interest in practical applications. In the years 1918-1926, at the request of the Dutch government, Lorentz headed a committee to calculate some of the effects of the proposed Afsluitdijk (Closure Dike) flood control dam on other seaworks in the Netherlands. Hydraulic engineering was mainly an empirical science at that time, but the disturbance of the tidal flow caused by the Afsluitdijk was so unprecedented that the empirical rules could not be trusted. Lorentz proposed to start from the basic hydrodynamic equations of motion and solve the problem numerically. This was feasible for a "human computer", because of the quasi-one-dimensional nature of the water flow in the Waddenzee. The Afsluitdijk was completed in 1933 and the predictions of Lorentz and his committee turned out to be remarkably accurate.
The respect that Lorentz held in the Netherlands is seen in O. W. Richardson's description of his funeral :
Richardson describes Lorentz as:
M. J. Klein (1967) wrote of Lorentz's reputation in the 1920s: