CHM 130 - Burdick
October 25, 2014 The study of physics isn’t a discovery that merely one man was capable of in a short duration of time. Thousands of experiments contributed to the discoveries of atoms, electricity, energy, and radiation. Those experiments were conducted over thousands of years as well and still continue today. With a multitude of experimentation over a vast length of time, many individuals contributed to the study of physics. One of the most well-known physicists might be Sir Isaac Newton for individuals studying basic chemistries. But who else influenced physics so greatly?
Hans Geiger was born on September 30, 1882, as Johannes Wilhelm Geiger in Neustadt an-der-Haardt, Germany. He was the eldest of five children fathered by Wilhelm Ludwig Geiger. Geiger's father was a professor at the University of Erlangen from the years 1891 to 1920. Geiger obtained his initial education at Erlangen Gymnasium, from which he graduated in 1901. During this time, military service was a requirement for all male individuals entering adulthood. Following his military service completion, Geiger attended both the University of Munich and the University of Erlangen, where he studied physics, the study of the relationship between energy and matter. The University of Erlangen presented Geiger with a doctorate for his study of electrical releases through gases in 1906. Geiger relocated to England to attend Manchester University. The university's head of the physics department was none other than, Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford detected the release of alpha, or positively-charged, particles from radioactive substances. The atoms of said substances were known to give off particles of matter as well as harmful energy. Geiger and Rutherford's experiments were based off this detection. Alpha particles can penetrate thin walls of solids. Based on that knowledge, Rutherford and Geiger presumed that alpha particles could also move through atoms. Geiger designed a machine that would shoot alpha particles through gold foil onto a screen. The particles were observed as tiny flashes of light. Counting the thousands of flashes per minute was a daunting task. Geiger sought an easier, more efficient option. His solution was an early version of the "Geiger counter" (Williams, 1982). The Geiger counter is an electrical machine designed to count released alpha particles. Geiger didn't stop there. In 1912, Geiger returned to Germany. He became the director of the new Laboratory for Radioactivity at the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt in Berlin, Germany (Scribner, 1972). Here he invented an instrument not only for the measurement of alpha particles, but other types of radiation as well. Unfortunately, Geiger's research was interrupted by the beginning of World War I, between the German-led Central Powers and the Allies(England, United States, Italy, and other nations). Due to the mandatory military recruitment, Geiger fought along side the German troops. Crouching in the trenches on the front line left Geiger with painful rheumatism(Williams, 1982). Geiger's service affects his scientific research later as well. With the war now ceased, Geiger returned to the Reichsanstalt. In 1920, he married Elisabeth Heffter. The couple brought forth three sons. Geiger became the professor of physics at the University of Kiel in Germany in 1925. During this time he developed the Geiger-Mueller counter with Walther Mueller. The counter can locate a speeding alpha particle within about one centimeter in space and to within a hundred-millionth second in time(Williams, 1982). Geiger used this machine to confirm the existence of light quantum(packets of energy). Geiger worked constantly to improve the efficacy of the counter when he later relocated to the University of Tubingen in October of 1929. Here he served as professor of physics and director of research at the physics institute. Geiger was able to discover bursts of radiation, known as