Gustav Kirchhoff


Gustav Kirchhoff was a German physicist who contributed to studies in electricity, radiation, optics, and spectroscopy. While still in college, he formulated two laws, thereafter known as Kirchhoff’s Laws, that explained the relation between incoming and outgoing forces in a completed circuit. Following his graduation, he assumed a position at the University of Heidelberg, where he worked with Robert Bunsen. With Bunsen’s help, he discovered two new elements, cesium and rubidium, and he created the three laws of spectroscopy. He was awarded the prestigious Rumford Medal for his research in 1862. Kirchhoff also conducted studies in thermal radiation—electromagnetic radiation emitted from a material and affected by that material’s temperature (i.e. the glow of a red-hot iron)—and he coined the term “black body radiation” to describe an object that absorbs all radiation coming toward it. Kirchhoff passed away in 1887 and was buried in the St Matthäus Kirchhof Cemetery in Schoneberg, Berlin, near the burial site of the Brothers Grimm.

Key events during the life of Gustav Kirchhoff:

Born in East Prussia
Proposed two curcuit laws (Kirchhoff's Laws)
Graduated from the University of Konigsberg
Came to University of Heidelberg to work with Robert Bunsen
Proposed law of thermal radiation
Discovered caesium and rubidium with Bunsen
Was Awarded the Rumford Medal for his research
  Coined the term 'black body radiation'

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Kirchoff and the Story Told by Sunbeam and Starbeam in  Children's Stories of the Great Scientists  by  Henrietta Christian Wright

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