Person: Balmer, Johann Jakob
Johann Balmer is best remembered for his work on spectral series and his formula for the wavelengths of the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Johann was the eldest of his parents sons.
- For his university studies in mathematics Balmer attended the University of Karlsruhe and the University of Berlin.
- Balmer taught in Basel all his life.
- However, despite being a mathematics teacher and lecturer all his life, Balmer is best remembered for his work on spectral series and his formula, given in 1885, for the wavelengths of the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom.
- It is surprising to realise that Balmer was sixty years old when he wrote the paper for which he is famous on the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom and that he was seventy-two when he wrote his only other work on this topic.
- But for his work on what amounts to a problem in physics, Balmer would be unknown today within the history of mathematics since he made no contribution to geometry of special significance despite it being the topic of interest throughout his life.
- The major contribution which Balmer made, however, depended much more on his mathematical skills than on his understanding of physics, for he produced a formula which gave the wavelengths of the observed lines produced by the hydrogen atom without giving any physical explanation.
- In his paper of 1885 Balmer suggested that giving nnn other small integer values would give the wavelengths of other series produced by the hydrogen atom.
- The reason why the formula holds was not understood in Balmer's lifetime and had to wait until the theoretical work of Niels Bohr in 1913.
- Balmer's formula led to more general formulae for the spectral lines of other atoms.
- Others who, basing their ideas on those of Balmer, were able to achieve such results included Rydberg, Kayser and Runge.
Born 1 May 1825, Lausen, Basel-Land, Switzerland. Died 12 March 1898, Basel, Switzerland.
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive