Hermann von Helmholtz

By Maiah Hambrick Hour 6

The Beginning of Time

Hermann von Helmholtz or Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand Helmholtz was born in Potsdam, which at the time was located in Prussia (Germany). His birthday is August 31st, 1821 and he died at the age of 73 on September 8th, 1894 in Charlottenburg, Germany. During his childhood he was the oldest of four and his was also the one with the most delicate health so he had to stay in his home for his first seven years of life. His parents were both apart of the what we would call a higher class. For his father was a teacher of philosophy and he became an essential source for Helmholtz education. As a child Helmholtz was taught almost everything by his father. He was taught many languages from classical languages to French, English, and Italian. Along with language his father introduced him to the thoughts of philosophers: Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He later graduated from the gymnasium and began to attend the Friedrich Wilhelm Medical Institute where he did his research under Johannes Muller. After he graduated from medical school and his short time work with the army, he was appointed assistant at the Anatomical Museum and lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts then later the assistant to the the director of the Physiological Institute.


Helmholtz had many Achievements during his life. From publishing books to teaching, he always seemed to succeed. He published his very famous physics treatise about the Conservation of Energy. In this he explains the history of the idea which was created or formulated by Mayer, Joule and himself. Along the way he got many teaching opportunities : In 1850, he became the professor of Physiology and General Pathology at Koenigsberg and a year later he invented the ophthalmoscope in 1851. Which caused a huge effect on us today because it enabled him to make the retina visible for the first time. He later created the ophthalmometer which is used for measuring corneal curvature. The next teaching opportunity he got was in 1859 at Heidelberg. Here he became a professor of Physiology and this is where he gained his fame from his findings regarding human sight and his other investigations about the mechanical causes of vocal sounds.

He was also the first scientist to measure the wavelengths of ultraviolet light. He also created the "three component theory of colour vision" which later came into play with the colored television. He formulated the first main theorem of thermodynamics and became one of the founding fathers of modern meterology through his mathematical studies on thunderstorms, cyclones, air and water waves, and also glaciers.

Though, Helmholtz should have many more awards instead of just titles, in 1873 he received the Copley Medal.


1. "The Awarding of the Copley Medal and the 'discovery' of the Law of Conservation of Energy: Joule, Mayer and Helmholtz Revisited." The Awarding of the Copley Medal and the 'discovery' of the Law of Conservation of Energy: Joule, Mayer and Helmholtz Revisited. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014


"Universal Scholar with a Sense for the Practical." Hermann Von Helmholtz. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.


Patton, Lydia. "Hermann Von Helmholtz." Stanford University. Stanford University, 18 Feb. 2008. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.


Why Blowing in Bottles Makes Sound and Helmholtz Resonance