Kirchhoff, Gustav Robert

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
Related to Kirchhoff, Gustav Robert: Robert Wilhelm Bunsen

Kirchhoff, Gustav Robert

(go͝os`täf rō`bĕrt kĭrkh`hôf), 1824–87, German physicist. He served as professor of physics at the universities of Breslau (1850–54), Heidelberg (1854–74), and Berlin (from 1875). He is known especially for his work with the spectroscopespectroscope,
optical instrument for producing spectral lines and measuring their wavelengths and intensities, used in spectral analysis (see spectrum). When a material is heated to incandescence it emits light that is characteristic of the atomic makeup of the material.
..... Click the link for more information.
 in association with R. W. Bunsen, with whom he discovered the elements cesium and rubidium, and for his explanation of the Fraunhofer lines in the solar spectrumspectrum,
arrangement or display of light or other form of radiation separated according to wavelength, frequency, energy, or some other property. Beams of charged particles can be separated into a spectrum according to mass in a mass spectrometer (see mass spectrograph).
..... Click the link for more information.
. He also did important research in electricity (he formulated Kirchhoff's lawsKirchhoff's laws
[for Gustav R. Kirchhoff], pair of laws stating general restrictions on the current and voltage in an electric circuit. The first of these states that at any given instant the sum of the voltages around any closed path, or loop, in the network is zero.
..... Click the link for more information.
) and thermodynamics.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kirchhoff, Gustav Robert


Born Mar. 12, 1824, in Königsberg; died Oct. 17, 1887, in Berlin. German physicist. Member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences (1874) and corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1862).

Kirchhoff graduated from the University of Königsberg in 1846. He was a professor at the universities of Breslau (1850) and Heidelberg (1854). In 1875 he was appointed to the chair of mathematical physics at the University of Berlin.

Kirchhoff’s scientific works were devoted to optics, electrodynamics, mechanics, and other areas. In 1847 he solved the problem of the distribution of currents in electric networks (seeKIRCHHOFF’S LAWS). He had also done research in discharge of capacitors and induction of currents. In mechanics he was primarily concerned with questions of deformation, equilibrium, motion of elastic bodies, and fluid flow. His Vorlesungen über matematische Physik (Lectures on Mathematical Physics, 1874–94) played an important role in the development of theoretical physics.

In 1854 Kirchhoff and R. W. Bunsen began studying the spectra of flames colored by vapors of metallic salts. As a result, they created the foundations for spectrum analysis, which, after the completion of their work (1859–61), was introduced into practice in chemical investigations. With the aid of this new method they discovered cesium (1860) and rubidium (1861). In 1859, Kirchhoff formulated one of the basic laws of thermal radiation (seeKIRCHHOFF’S RADIATION LAW) and introduced the concept of a black body into physics. In 1860 he discovered the rule for reversal of spectral lines and was the first to explain correctly the dark lines of the solar spectrum (Fraunhofer lines), proposing the probable chemical composition of the solar atmosphere.


Vorlesungen über mathematische Physik, vols. 1–4. Leipzig, 1874–94.
Gesammelte Abhardlungen. Leipzig, 1882.
Untersuchungen über das Sonnenspektrum und die Spektren der chemischen Elemente. Berlin, 1861–62.


Stoletov, A. G. Gustav Robert Kirkhgof, sobr. soch., vol. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1841.
Gornshtein, T. N. “Kirkhgof i ego issledovaniia no teplovomu izlucheniiu.” Tr. In-ta istorii estestvoznaniia i tekniki, 1960, issue 34, pp. 110–56.
Agassi, J. “The Kirchhoff-Planck Radiation Law.” Science, 1967, vol. 156, no. 3771, pp. 30–37.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.