[gA' ri kE] the
man who proved that vacuums exist
Otto Gericke was born on
November 20, 1602, at Magdeburg, Prussian Saxony
(now in Germany). He was educated at the
University of Leipzig and studied law at the
University of Jena and mathematics and mechanics
at the University of Leyden. In 1631 he became an
engineer in the army of Gustavus II Adolphus of
Sweden, and from 1646 to 1678 he was
bürgermeister (mayor) of Magdeburg and
magistrate for Brandenburg.
In 1650 Gericke invented the
air pump, which he used to create a partial
vacuum. Subsequent experiments proved that light
travels through a vacuum but sound does not.
In 1654, in a famous series of
experiments performed before Emperor Ferdinand
III at Regensburg, Gericke demonstrated the
capacity of the atmosphere to do work and
decisively refuted the long-held notion that it
was impossible for a vacuum to exist. His most
famous experiment is depicted in the picture
below. The big ball is a hollow copper ball made
in two halves that are not fastened together.
After using his air pump to remove most of the
air from the sphere (creating a vacuum inside the
sphere), Gericke tied a team of strong horses to
each hemisphere. Even though the sphere was held
together only by the air around it, the horses
were unable to pull the hemispheres apart.
In 1663 Gericke invented the first
electric generator, which was made of a large
sulfur ball cast inside a glass globe, mounted on
a shaft. The ball was rotated by means of a
crank, and a static electric spark was produced
when a pad was rubbed against the ball as it
rotated. The globe could then be removed and used
as a source for experiments with electricity. In
1672 he discovered that the electricity thus
produced could cause the surface of the sulphur
ball to glow, becoming the first man to view
electroluminescence. Gericke did not, however,
recognize the effect he generated as static
On January 4, 1666, Otto
Gericke was raised to the peerage by Emperor
Leopold I, thus becoming Otto von Guericke.
Guericke also studied winds and
weather and built a water barometer. His water
barometer had a glass tube more than 30 feet tall
that reached up through the roof of his house.
The tube was almost completely filled with water,
and a little wooden figure floated on the water.
On clear days the water rose, and the little
figure appeared above the roof. On cloudy days
the water went down and the little figure
disappeared below the roof.
Guericke's only major published
work, Experimenta nova Magdeburgia de vacuo
spatio (New Magdeburg Experiments About
the Vacuum), was completed in 1663 and
published in Amsterdam in 1671.
Otto Von Guericke died in
Hamburg on May 11, 1686.
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