Otto von Guericke (originally spelled Gericke) (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 in Magdeburg, Germany. He was the mayor of Magdeburg from 1646 to 1676. He was a very noble man, and was given the title of Sir when the late king daubed him.
Air pressure and the vacuum
In 1650 he invented a vacuum pump consisting of a piston and cylinder with one-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, that 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. Thus he made a first rate scientific discovery.
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".
Death and afterwards
Guericke died in Hamburg, Germany. The Otto von Guericke University of Magdeburg is named after him.
A frictional device
(All these books are in German)
Die Welt im leeren Raum.
Otto von Guericke 1602-1686., Ausstellungskatalog, 2002.,
Otto von Guericke.
Schneider, Ditmar: Ein Leben für die Alte Stadt Magdeburg. 2002,
Neue 'Magdeburgische' Versuche über den leeren Raum
Otto von Guericke,
Reihe Ostwalds Klassiker, Bd. 59: Übersetzung von Guerickes "Experimenta nova Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio", 1672. (Magdeburger Halbkugeln) 1996,
Guericke, Otto von: Gesamtausgabe, 24 Bde.
Bd.2/1/1 Guericke, Otto von: Otto von Guerickes Neue (so genannte) Magdeburger Versuche über den leeren Raum. Ottonis de Guericke Experimenta Nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de Vacuo Spatio. Faksimile d. latein. Ausg., 1672. 2002.
(All these pages are in German)
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Biographies of Physicists and Astronomers