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Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

[kah-muhr-ling aw-nuhs]
Onnes, Heike Kamerlingh: see Kamerlingh Onnes, Heike.
Kamerlingh Onnes, Heike, 1853-1926, Dutch physicist. He was, from 1882, professor of physics at the Univ. of Leiden. He made important studies of the properties of helium and, in attempting to solidify it, produced a temperature within one degree of absolute zero. In the course of his low temperature experiments, he discovered the property of superconductivity in certain metals. For these researches he received the 1913 Nobel Prize in Physics.
|death_place = Leiden, Netherlands |residence = Netherlands |citizenship = |nationality = Dutch |ethnicity = |fields = Physicist |workplaces = University of Leiden |alma_mater = Heidelberg University
University of Groningen |doctoral_advisor = Rudolf Adriaan Mees |academic_advisors = Robert Bunsen
Gustav Kirchhoff
Johannes Bosscha |doctoral_students = Jacob Clay
Claude Crommelin
Wander de Haas
Johannes Kuenen
Remmelt Sissingh
Ewoud van Everdingen
Jules Verschaffelt
Pieter Zeeman |notable_students = |known_for = Onnes-effect |author_abbrev_bot = |author_abbrev_zoo = |influences = |influenced = |awards = |religion = |signature = |footnotes = }}

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (September 21, 1853February 21, 1926) was a Dutch physicist. His scientific career was spent exploring extremely cold refrigeration techniques and the associated phenomena.


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, Kamerlingh 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 Polytechnic in Delft, for whom he substituted as lecturer in 1881 and 1882.

From 1882 to 1923 Kamerlingh 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 less than one degree above absolute zero, reaching 0.9 K. At the time this was the coldest temperature achieved on earth. The original equipment is at the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.

He was married to Maria Adriana Wilhelmina Elisabeth Bijleveld (m. 1887) and had a child named Albert.


Kamerlingh Onnes conducted (in 1911) electrical analysis of pure metals (mercury, tin and lead) at very low temperatures. Some, such as William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), believed that electrons flowing through a conductor would come to a complete halt or, in other words, metal resisitivity will become infinity at absolute zero. Others, including Kamerlingh Onnes, felt that a conductor's electrical resistance would steadily decrease and drop to nil. Augustus Matthiessen pointed out when the temperature decreases, the metal conductivity usually improves or in other words, the electrical resisitivy usually decreases with temperature . At 4.2 kelvin the resistance was zero according to the observation of Kamerlingh Onnes and his co-workers. The drop to zero was experimentally observed to be abrupt. Kamerlingh Onnes stated that the "Mercury has passed into a new state, which on account of its extraordinary electrical properties may be called the superconductive state". He published more articles about the phenomenon, initially referring to it as "supraconductivity" and, only later adopting the term "superconductivity".

Kamerlingh Onnes received widespread recognition for his work, including the 1913 Nobel Prize in Physics for (in the words of the committee) "his investigations on the properties of matter at low temperatures which led, inter alia, to the production of liquid helium".

Death and afterwards

Kamerlingh Onnes died in Leiden. Some of the instruments he devised for his experiments can still be seen at the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden. The apparatus he used to first liquefy helium is on display in the lobby of the physics department at Leiden University, where the low temperature lab is also named in his honor. His student and successor as director of the lab Willem Hendrik Keesom was the first person who was able to solidify helium, in 1926.

The Onnes-effect referring to the creeping of superfluid Helium is named in his honor.

The Kamerlingh Onnes crater on the Moon was named after him by the IAU.



  • Kamerlingh Onnes, H., "Nieuwe bewijzen voor de aswenteling der aarde." Ph.D. dissertation. Groningen, Netherlands, 1879.
  • Kamerlingh Onnes, H., "Algemeene theorie der vloeistoffen." Amsterdam Akad. Verhandl. 21, 1881.
  • Kamerlingh Onnes, H., "On the Cryogenic Laboratory at Leyden and on the Production of Very Low Temperature." Comm. Phys. Lab. Univ. Leiden 14, 1894.
  • Kamerlingh Onnes, H., "Théorie générale de l'état fluide." Haarlem Arch. Neerl. 30, 1896.
  • Kamerlingh Onnes, H., "The Superconductivity of Mercury." Comm. Phys. Lab. Univ. Leiden, Nos. 122 and 124, 1911
  • Kamerlingh Onnes, H., "On the Lowest Temperature Yet Obtained." Comm. Phys. Lab. Univ. Leiden, No. 159, 1922.

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