Otto von Guericke

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Otto von Guericke (originally spelled Gericke, German pronunciation: [ˈɡeːʁɪkə]) (November 20, 1602 – May 11, 1686 (Julian calendar); November 30, 1602 – May 21, 1686 (Gregorian calendar) was a German scientist, inventor, and politician. His major scientific achievement was the establishment of the physics of vacuums.



Guericke was born to a patrician family of Magdeburg, Germany. He served as the mayor of Magdeburg from 1646 to 1676.

Air pressure and the vacuum

In 1650 he invented a vacuum pump consisting of a piston and an air gun cylinder with two-way flaps designed to pull air out of whatever vessel it was connected to, and used it to investigate the properties of the vacuum in many experiments. Guericke demonstrated the force of air pressure with dramatic experiments. He had joined two copper hemispheres of 51 cm diameter (Magdeburg hemispheres) and pumped the air out of the enclosure. Then he harnessed a team of eight horses to each hemisphere and showed that they were not able to separate the hemispheres. When air was again let into the enclosure, they were easily separated. He repeated this demonstration in 1663 at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Brandenburg in Berlin, using 24 horses.

With his experiments Guericke disproved the hypothesis of "horror vacui", that nature abhors a vacuum, which for centuries was a problem for philosophers and scientists. Guericke proved that substances were not pulled by a vacuum, but were pushed by the pressure of the surrounding fluids.

Other research

Guericke applied the barometer to weather prediction and thus prepared the way for meteorology. His later works focused on electricity, but little is preserved of his results. He invented the first electrostatic generator, the "Elektrisiermaschine", of which a version is illustrated in the engraving by Hubert-François Gravelot, c. 1750.

Guericke died on May 11, 1686 in Hamburg, Germany. The Otto von Guericke University of Magdeburg is named after him.


(All these books are in German)

  • Die Welt im leeren Raum.
  • Otto von Guericke.

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