Ludwig Boltzmann - Life and Work

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Ludwig Boltzmann was born on the 20th February, 1844 in the Viennese suburb called Landstrasse, and the next day, he was given the Christian name Ludwig Eduard. Boltzmann later said that this point in time - that is his birth night from Pancake Tuesday to Ash Wednesday - was the reason why his mood could so suddenly change from a spirit of gaiety to deep sadness. It was said of Boltzmann that he could treat his fellow men with biting irony, and still he was described as a man with a kind nature.

Ludwig's father died when he was only 15 years old and due to this, his to this date happy childhood changed abruptly, furthermore due to the fact that also his brother died a little later, after this event. For his school and university education, his mother sacrificed their entire family fortune that she had brought into her marriage as dowry. In Linz, Boltzmann was taught in private lessons, before being admitted to the secondary school in 1854.

In the secondary school, Boltzmann was given classes by the best teachers, and he was almost always the best pupil of his class. Already those days, he was interested in mathematics and in July 1863, he graduated with distinction.

After his father's death, Karl von Lanser, an independent gentleman from Salzburg, was appointed his guardian. As it was usual in bourgeois circles, also Boltzmann was taught piano lessons - even by Anton Bruckner, whom he appreciated very much. Playing piano played a role during his whole live, he had an excellent command of it and he rejoiced quite some parties with works of Beethoven, his favourite composer.

In 1876, Ludwig Boltzmann married Henriette von Aigentler (1854-1938) with whom he had five children. He spent both his humanly happiest and his scientifically most fruitful time with her and his children in Graz, even though one of his sons died at young age.

The tragic point is that the last years of his life were marked by illness, which in the end drove him to commit suicide. During a summer vacation with his family, Boltzmann hanged himself in a spa hotel in Duino, which then was still Austrian.

On his gravestone on his honorary grave at Vienna's Central Cemetery (Group 14 C, number 1), Max Planck had engraved the fundamental equation, which Boltzmann had discovered:

S = k log W

The time in which Boltzmann grew up and worked not only was the time after the revolution of 1848, the Ringstrasse era and the Gründerzeit, but it was in general a time of change and new values. This also includes natural sciences, in which the classic Newtonian world picture had been out-dated and the post-classic-modern world picture of the natural sciences prevailed. It was the time of conflicts between idealism and materialism, between the laws of social and cosmological order, which were then considered as being set in stone and those progressive ideas which are still today meant by the keyword "Darwinism".

The catalogue on Ludwig Boltzmann 1844-1906
is available at the Hotel Boltzmann for EUR 15.00 a piece, an exhibition of the Austrian Central Library for Physics.

Boltzmann's motto was:

Say what is true;
Write the way that it is clear.
And advocate it until it is your opinion!

A further well-known expression is:

Available energy is the main object at stake in the struggle for existence and the evolution of the world.

Quoted in D'A W Thompson On Growth and Form (Cambridge, 1917).

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