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 Georg Wilhelm Richmann

Born:   July 11, 1711
Deceased:   June 26, 1753

Russian scientist, physicist


Georg Wilhelm Richmann, eminent Russian physicist, is born on July 11, 1711 in the family of a treasurer in the city of Pernau (now Pärnu of Estonia). His father dies of plague, before his son is born, and his mother marries for the second time. Young Georg gets his primary and secondary education in Reval (now Tallinn), large seaport located at the Gulf of Finland, which had a gymnasium and a navigation school. Longing to study physics, young Richmann heads for Saint Petersburg, where submits an essay in physics to the Academy of Sciences and is taken in the physics department.

Head of the laboratory, academician Kraft plays a great role in scientific training of Georg Wilhelm, who follows advice of the scientist and helps him with the experiments. President of the Academy allows young physicist to attend Academy meetings, where he listens to lectures of famous scientists. Physical research is performed in a laboratory, consisting of about 400 devices for experiments in mechanics, optics, magnetism, heat and meteorology. He publishes popular scientific essays on phosphorus, amber, healing waters and etc. His papers are always very absorbing, showing perfect knowledge of the matter and carefully chosen comprehensible examples. In 1740 talented physicist Richmann becomes an adjunct, and the following year – second professor of the department of theoretical and experimental physics. He publishes 19 papers on calorimetry and thermometry, heat exchange and evaporation of liquids, air elastic characteristics, electricity, magnetism and cartography.

In 1744 academician Kraft leaves for Germany, leaving Richmann the only head of the department of physics and physical sciences of the Academy of Sciences, which soon becomes Russian centre of science, research and education. Between 1742 and 1753 Richmann reads lectures for young Russian scientists, describing their tasks in detail. Among his students there are many brilliant scientists, which later become academicians.


Georg Wilhelm Richmann proves to be a well educated researcher, knowing about many fields of science, who keeps a close eye on development of natural sciences and becomes an outstanding founder of thermal physics and electricity. He studies issues on cartography, magnetism, mechanics, optics, and he is the first in Russia to start studying luminescence. Richmann is interested in spontaneous heat transfer via convection and thermal conductivity. Development of meteorology and hydrology leads Richmann to the idea of studying processes of water evaporation, and finally the scientist finds out that water evaporation depends on difference between surfaces, mass and water level in the jar. He also shows that evaporation is also followed by water temperature decrease.

The history suggests that the impulse to study electricity emerges form Leonard Euler’s letter, in which the great scientist invited Russian Academy of Sciences to take part in the contest on solving the mystery of electrical phenomena. Meeting of the Academy decides to study electrical phenomena and to read existing literature on the subject carefully. Georg Wilhelm Richmann is the one to head new scientific field and thoroughly reads available papers on electricity. New research field requires new equipment, thus the physicist has to buy it, and sometimes even to invent and build it himself. He builds a device for measuring amount of electricity – electrometer. Then Richmann decides to use a bell for measuring electricity intensity, and in 1945 first automatic registering device, recording value of electric charge and time of it passing through electric chain without human presence, is tested in Saint Petersburg.

Richmann studies electrical conductivity till the end of his short life. He wants to compile a table with bodies arranged according their specific electric conductivity. Georg Wilhelm is not only an outstanding experimenter, but also a propagandist of electrical sciences, arranging experimental demonstrations for his fellows and students. His experiments in electrophysiology, performed in 1745, are priceless for Russian science, since they reveal effect of electricity on animal organism.


In December 1747 Saint Petersburg’s Kunstcamera (cabinet of curiosities) is destroyed by fire, and physical laboratory moves to a rented house, made of stone, where the scientist and his students conduct physical experiment till the end of Richmann’s life. Georg Wilhelm succeeds in measuring electric field strength according to thread deviations in device’s scale, proving that this strength weakens, when electrometer is moved away from an electrified object. He observes how electrical density depends on surface curvature and discovers very important phenomenon, later called electrostatic induction. Georg Wilhelm Richmann pays much attention to studies of atmospheric electricity and decides to prove that artificial electric phenomena and lightning have the same nature. In 1753 any sound theory of atmospheric electricity is still not formulated, and many experiments are required. In June of 1753 Georg Wilhelm Richmann finished his report “Concerning experiments on electricity via electrical machines and similarity of natural and artificial electric phenomena”, which is classic work in the field of electricity, covering all possible experimental research, including experiments, performed by Richmann himself. On June 26 a ball lightning enters the physical laboratory and kills one of the most eminent physicists of 18th century.

    Russian Science News

Kizilova Anna

Tags: Russian science Russian scientists physics   

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