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Karl Ferdinand Herzfeld was an Austrian-American physicist who made significant contributions in the study of ultrasonic, kinetic theory, and thermodynamics. He was also an author, professor, soldier, and a humanitarian. He co-authored 14 books and more than 130 scientific articles.
See the fact file below for more information on the Karl Herzfeld or alternatively, you can download our 23-page Karl Herzfeld worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
FERMI’S EARLY LIFE
- Karl Ferdinand Herzfeld was born on the 24th of February 1892 in Vienna during the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
- He came from a prominent Jewish family. He was the son of a physician and ordinarius professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Charles August, at the University of Vienna.
- He was the grandson of a newspaper publisher and the nephew of an organic chemist R.O Herzog through his mother.
- Coming from a well off family, he had the privilege to attend prestigious schools.
- In 1902, he enrolled in a Catholic School “Schotten Gymnasium” where he developed his interest in Science.
- He study Physics and Chemistry at the University of Vienna then took courses at the University of Zurich at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich in 1910.
- In 1913, he was studying under Albert Einstein at the University of Gottingen, before he took his doctoral studies in Physics at Vienna.
- He met Otto Stern whom he credited for his greater understanding of thermodynamics.
- Herzfeld completed his doctorate studies at the University of Vienna in 1914.
ACADEMIC CAREER AND CONTRIBUTIONS
- He became an assistant professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich where he developed his interest in Theoretical Physics.
- He then became a Privatdozent, a formal academic position in German-speaking universities, which allowed him to teach Theoretical Physics and Physical Chemistry, in 1925.
- This position allowed him to work with Arnold Sommerfeld, who was the Director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics – an organization that studies atomic and molecular structure.
- He was also the thesis advisor of Walter Heitler, who is famous for his Valence Bond Theory.
- Linus Pauling, who is famous for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and a Nobel Prize awardee in Chemistry, did his post-doctoral degree with Herzfeld.
- In 1925, he published his book on kinetic theory, Kinetische Theorie der Wärme’ (Kinetic Theory of Heat), which become a graduate-level book used in German universities.
- In 1926, he relocated to the United States when he accepted a position at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland as a professor of Physics.
- He collaborated with Francis Owen Rice, a chemist at John Hopkins University. They published an important joint article in the Physical Review, under the title “Dispersion and Absorption of High-Frequency Sound Waves” in 1928.
- He published two publications on the states of aggregation in the ‘Journal of Chemical Physics’ and on the theory of fusion in ‘Physical Review,’ which was the result of his collaboration with Maria Goeppert-Mayer, a Nobel prize winner in Physics in 1963.
- He also worked with the German physicist and another Nobel Prize awardee, James Franck. They published two papers. The first is ‘An attempted theory of photosynthesis’ for the ‘Journal of Chemical Physics.’ It was followed by ‘Contributions to a theory of photosynthesis’ for the ‘Journal of Physical Chemistry.’ These were written after they both left John Hopkins.
- He stayed there for ten years wherein he became the doctoral adviser of John Archibald Wheeler, who is responsible for regaining the popularity of general relativity in the Physics field and was also a part of the Manhattan Project.
- The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. offered him the chairmanship of the Physics Department in 1936. He stayed employed at the university until he died.
- He focused his studies on quantum-mechanical calculations on the electronic structure of polyatomic molecules. It established a respected reputation for the Catholic University of America.
- He collaborated with a physics professor, Theodore A. Litovitz, on the book Absorption and Dispersion of Ultrasonic Waves that was based on Herzfeld’s theory of ultrasonics.
- He published his last articles in 1966 in the ‘Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.’ The articles summarized fifty years of progression in physical ultrasonics.
- He was given the title of professor emeritus at the Catholic University of America and served to the best of his capacity until he died in 1969.
- World War I started after Herzfel received his doctorate. He volunteered in the Austro-Hungarian Army until 1918, rising to the rank of the First Lieutenant of Artillery.
- During World War II, he was summoned to the National Defense Research Committee and asked to improve the artillery shells inside the Naval Ordinance Laboratory, given his experience in artillery in the Austrian Army. He continued to work with them as a researcher even after the war.
- In 1964, he received the US Navy’s Meritorious Service Citation for his services during World War II.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT HERZFELD
- Herzfeld, despite his passion for science, also published scholarly articles on the relationship between science and humanities.
- Herzfeld’s impact on science does not come only from his scholarship. It was also influenced by those who studied under him. He was a well-loved professor who made an impact on his students’ professional and spiritual lives.
- Watching western movies helped him be fluent in English.
- Princeton University offered him a full professorship which he declined as he thought that it was unfair to leave John Hopkins so soon after arriving there.
- One of the reasons he left Hopkins in 1936 was the financial difficulty the university was facing. Another factor was his relationship with RW Wood had deteriorated. He was also accused of bringing German physicists to John Hopkins to advance his ambition to be a chairman of the department.
- He was awarded the Mendel Medal from Villanova University in 1931, the Secchi Medal from Georgetown University in 1938, the Cardinal Gibbons Medal from Catholic University of America in 1960, and the Benemerenti medal from the Vatican for his 28 years of distinguished service to the Catholic University of America.
- He died on June 3, 1978, at the age of 86 in Washington DC after suffering a severe stroke.
Karl Herzfeld Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Karl Herzfeld across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Karl Herzfeld worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Karl Ferdinand Herzfeld who was an Austrian-American physicist who made significant contributions in the study of ultrasonic, kinetic theory, and thermodynamics. He was also an author, professor, soldier, and a humanitarian. He co-authored 14 books and more than 130 scientific articles.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Karl Herzfeld Facts
- Herzfeld’s Profile
- The Herzfeld Interview
- Herzfeld’s Academic World
- An Outstanding Professor
- Way to Greatness
- Prizes of a Physicist
- A Great Collaborator
- Herzfeld: Fact or Bluff
- Herzfeld’s Contributions
- Honoring a Professor
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