Gustav Kirchhoff

Arielle Pugh, Hour 6


Childhood Description

Gustav Robert Kirchoff was born in Königsberg, Prussia, March 12, 1824. He was born to Johanna Henriette Wittke, and Fredrich Kirchoff, who was a law councillor with a strong sense of duty to the Prussian state. Gustav was the most intelligent of his siblings, so he was brought up to believe that being apart of the Prussian government was where he belonged.Since Gustav had such high academic abilities, his parents believed that someone of his nature had the ability to serve Prussia. Obviously, that didn't happen, and his academic abilities soon followed his career.

Development of Interest in Science

Kirchoff went to school in his hometown where he enrolled to Albertus University. Kirchoff attended a seminar for 3 years called the Neumann-Jacobi seminar which was a mathematics-physics course and it introduced students to methods of research. Neumann influenced Gustav in a very positive way, as Kirchoff began studying with him while he began doing research on electrical induction. He also posted two major papers on electrical induction as well. Kirchoff took his math courses at the University of Konigsberg.


Gustav faced more hardships in his personal life than he did in his scientific career. He gained friendships through science and made amazing discoveries that effected the history of science forever. However, after his wife, Clara, died, he had to take care of their 5 children (3 boys, 2 girls). This also took a toll oh his physical health, so he had to spend most of his life on crutches on in a wheel chair. He also struggled with health issues which ultimately had an affect on his health.

Major Contribution(s) to Scientific History

Kirchhoff made his first contribution relating to electrical currents during his research with Neumann. In 1845, Kirchoff announced his laws which allowed calculation of currents, voltages, and resistances in electrical circuits with multiple loops. He gave laws that reduced the calculation of currents in each loop to the solution of mathematical equations. The first law states that the sum of the currents in a node equals the sum of the currents outside of said node. The second law states that the sum of electromotive forces in a loop equals the sum of potential drops, or voltages across each of the resistances in the loop.

Kirchhoff was not the only one working at the time on electric currents. He met Wilhelm Weber was also working on the nature of electric currents and published similar results to Kirchhoff around 1857 on the velocity of a current in a highly conductive wire. Kirchhoff and Weber both discovered that the velocity was independent of the nature of the wire and was almost exactly equal to the velocity of light. Kirchoff also did fundamental work on black body radiation that helped the quantum theory. He also produced purer forms of substances to further progress his fundamental findings.

Also, Kirchhoff and Bunsen (someone he met in school and built a life-long friendship with) examined the spectrum of the sun in and were able to discover the chemical elements in the sun's atmosphere. They discovered two new elements, caesium and rubidium during their research. Kirchhoff is best known for being the first to explain the dark lines in the sun's spectrum that's caused by absorption of wavelengths as the light passes through gases in the sun's atmosphere. This work started a new era in astronomy.


As for his awards, The IEEE Gustav Robert Kirchhoff Award was established in 2003, formed in the honor of him.

Kirchoff's Laws: The Basics

Works Cited List

"Gustav Robert Kirchhoff." Kirchhoff Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.