Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes, discoverer of superconductivity

Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes (Groningen, September 21, 1853 – Leiden, February 21, 1921)

Dutch physicist and Nobel Prize winner, was born on September 21, 1853 in the city of Groeningen. He studied at the University of Heidelberg, where he was a student of the German physicists Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff, and received his doctorate at the University of Groningen in 1879. From 1878 to 1882 he was a professor at the Delft Polytechnic. He subsequently gave up the post to become professor of physics at the University of Leiden, until he retired in 1923.

Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes is known for his work in cryogenics, that is, the study of the effects of extremely low temperatures on different elements. Thus, in 1908 he achieved the liquefaction of helium.

He studied the effects of extreme cold on numerous gases and metals. This led him, in 1911, to discover the almost total absence of resistance to the passage of electricity in certain substances at temperatures above absolute zero, a phenomenon known as superconductivity. The discovery is said to have occurred when he asked a student to measure the electrical resistance of mercury, and the student returned with the news that the resistance of the metal mysteriously disappeared when the temperature of the sample reached 4.2K (-269ºC). . After repeating the experience several times, they came to the conclusion that they had made a historic discovery.

Since then, superconductivity has had important applications. For example, superconductors are used to make magnets used in particle accelerators (devices used, among other things, to study subatomic particles such as electrons and protons) and in magnetic resonance spectroscopy systems used in hospitals.

In 1913 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes died in Leiden on February 21, 1926.

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