Heike Kamerlingh Onnes Biography

Physicist, Scientist (1853–1926)
Heike Kamerlingh Onnes was a Dutch scientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913 for his work in low-temperature physics after he liquefied helium.


Heike Kamerlingh Onnes was born on September 21, 1853, in Groningen, Netherlands. The scientist studied properties of matter at low temperatures. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1913 after he succeeded in liquefying helium. He discovered superconductivity, a phenomenon where materials lose electrical resistance at extremely low temperatures. Kamerlingh Onnes died on February 21, 1926.

Early Life

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes was born on September 21, 1853, in Groningen, Netherlands. He got his secondary education at Hoogere Burgerschool and received his "candidaats" degree from the University of Groningen in 1871. Kamerlingh Onnes was adept at science even at a young age. When he was 18, his talents were recognized when he won a gold medal in a contest held by the natural sciences faculty of the University of Utrecht. He went on to study at Heidelberg University for two years under Robert Wilhelm Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff. He obtained his doctorate from the University of Groningen in 1879 and then spent the next five years teaching at the Polytechnic School in Delft.

Scientific Research

Kamerlingh Onnes worked in the Physical Laboratory at the University of Leiden, where he was appointed a professor of experimental physics at just 29 years of age. His research was inspired by J.D. Van der Waals and H.A. Lorentz, and revolved around the different states of matter, specifically matter's properties at very low temperatures. He experimented with liquids and gases to assess their thermodynamic properties. In 1894, he founded a cryogenic laboratory, which now is called Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory. The facility gained fame and became a work destination for foreign scientists. In 1901, the laboratory garnered global recognition after it established a glass-blowing training school.

Nobel Prize

After years of studying metals and liquids at very low temperatures, Kamerlingh Onnes succeeded in liquefying helium in 1908. At the time, it was the closest anyone had come to reaching absolute zero, the lowest possible temperature. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in 1913.

In 1911, Kamerlingh Onnes discovered and named the concept of "superconductivity," a phenomenon in which the property of zero electrical resistance occurs in some substances at very low absolute temperatures. Kamerlingh Onnes deduced this by exposing mercury, tin and lead to extremely low temperatures.Kamerlingh Onnes was selected as a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Amsterdam when he was 30. He was a founder of the Association Internationale du Froid (International Association of Refrigeration). The University of Berlin bestowed an honorary doctorate on Kamerlingh Onnes.

Personal Life

Kamerlingh Onnes was known for being charming and affable. He married Maria Adriana Wilhelmina Elisabeth Bijleveld in 1887, and the couple had a son named Albert. The family were philanthropists and known for their generous hospitality. Kamerlingh Onnes died in Leiden on February 21, 1926, after a brief illness. He is remembered for his personal motto: "Door meten tot weten" (Knowledge through measurement).

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