Superconductivity—the disappearance of resistance in an electric current—is one of nature's stranger phenomenon. In what some called the “Woodstock of physics,” hundreds of scientists crowded into a ballroom at the New York City Hilton to receive hurried reports of superconductivity at much higher temperatures than ever previously reported. Almost forgotten in the search for theory, and for materials that superconduct at ever higher temperatures, is the work of the brilliant experimental physicist Heike KamerlinghOnnes, superconductivity's discoverer.

Onnes was a man attracted to cold, which no doubt added to his enjoyment of the December day in Stockholm when he received the Nobel Prize for Physics. His primary aim was to quantify the behavior of gases at extremely low temperatures; the experimental program that allowed him to reach ever lower temperatures also led to the discovery of superconductivity.

Onnes was born in 1853 in Groningen, in the northeastern Netherlands. His father owned a roofing-tile factory, but his mother's more artistic temperament seems to have influenced the family. Onnes's passions, however, would be fully ignited only by his later pursuits in low-temperature physics.

In 1870 Onnes enrolled at the University of Groningen to study physics. He apparently had a bit of wanderlust, as he transferred the following year to the University of Heidelberg in Germany, where he studied with the chemist Robert Bunsen (whose last name is familiar to everyone who has lit a burner in a high school chemistry laboratory course) and with the physicist Gustav Kirchhoff. In 1873 he returned to Groningen, later he defended his doctorate on the influence of the earth's rotation on a short pendulum. Accounts attest that at the conclusion of that defense his examiners burst into applause.

Posted 2011-01-29 and updated on Jun 07, 2011 8:52pm by crisd

 Jun 07, 2011 8:52pmI m out of lgueae here. Too much brain power on display! by Dortha
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