Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

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Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (21 September 1853 – 21 February 1926) was a Dutch physicist and Nobel laureate. He pioneered refrigeration techniques, and he explored how materials behaved when cooled to nearly absolute zero. He was the first to liquify helium. His production of extreme cryogenic temperatures led to his discovery of superconductivity in 1911: for certain materials, electrical resistance abruptly vanishes at very low temperatures.



Early years

Kamerlingh Onnes was born in Groningen, Netherlands. His father, Harm Kamerlingh Onnes, was a brickworks owner. His mother was Anna Gerdina Coers of Arnhem.

In 1870, Onnes attended the University of Groningen. He studied under Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff at the University of Heidelberg from 1871 to 1873. Again at Groningen, he obtained his masters in 1878 and a doctorate in 1879. His thesis was "Nieuwe bewijzen voor de aswenteling der aarde" (tr. New proofs of the rotation of the earth). From 1878 to 1882 he was assistant to Johannes Bosscha, the director of the TU Delft (then Delft Polytechnic), for whom he substituted as lecturer in 1881 and 1882.

University of Leiden

From 1882 to 1923 Onnes served as professor of experimental physics at the University of Leiden. In 1904 he founded a very large cryogenics laboratory and invited other researchers to the location, which made him highly regarded in the scientific community. In 1908, he was the first physicist to liquify helium, using the Hampson-Linde cycle and cryostats. Using the Joule-Thomson effect, he lowered the temperature to -269 °C, 3 °K. At the time this was the coldest temperature achieved on earth. The original equipment is at the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.

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