Hermann Von Helmholtz
Researched and written by:  Kevin Randall Smith
I attest that the follwoing biography is a profuct of my own original work.

1) Childhood

        Hermann von Helmholtz was born August 31, 1821 in Postsdam, Germany.  Helmholtz was the eldest of four children and a sickly child that required tutoring at home.  His father was August Ferdinand Julius Helmholtz and his mother was Caroline Penn. His father was a strong influence on the paths of his son Hermann. (Schultz, 2000)

        Ferdinand Helmholtz served in the Prussian army during the fight against Napoleon.  Ferdinand was a well-educated man.  He studied both philosophy and philology on the university level.  He later became a poorly paid teacher at PotsdamGymnasium.  This poor income led to Hermann being raised with financial difficulties.  Ferdinand influenced Hermann with his love of art and music.  Caroline gave Hermann a character of reserve which she acquired from her father being an artillery officer. (

2) Adult Life

        Herman attended school at Potsdam Gymnasium since it was the school that his father taught in.  Because of Hermannís financial problem the only way he could study medicine was if he gained a grant to the school.  With this in mind he signed up to be a doctor for ten years with the Persian army, which would start upon graduation.  He studied at Royal Friedrich-Wilhelm Institute of Medicine and Surgery located in Berlin. He also attended courses in physiology and chemistry as well.  Although Hermann made contributions in mathematics he never attended any mathematic courses, he was instead self-taught with books by Biot, Laplace and Daniel Bernoulli.  He graduating in 1843 and was placed in a military regiment at Potsdam.  (

        He later married Olga and together had two kids together before she died in 1859.  In 18 months he remarried a sophisticated and attractive woman, Anna von Mohl with whom he had three more kids with. Till his death in 1894 he made numerous discovers and achievements gaining him the title of one of the greatest scientist of the 19th century. (

3) Professional Accomplishments

        Hermann von Helmholtz was known as many things. He was a mathematician, physicist, and physiologist. He made discoveries in mathematics, meteorology, optics, electrodynamics and physiology. (

        In 1847 Hermann and some associates formed a mechanistic school of physiology in opposition to the currently accepted concepts of life processes with nonphysical vital forces.  Their mechanistic school of physiology tried to explain physiological phenomena with chemistry and physics.  During 1843 and 1847 Helmholtz published a series of papers about animal heat and muscle contraction using the principles of the mechanistic school of physiology.  In 1847 Hermann wrote On the Conservation of Energy.  This book addressed his theory on conservation of energy using physics and philosophy. (

        Although Helmholtz was not aware, he was not the first person to come up with the concept of conservation of energy.  Julius Mayer first introduced the conservation of energy concept.  Helmholtz came up with the concept off his own research of energy.  He based his theories on his previous work electricity and muscles. (

        Around 1850 he switched his attention to sensory physiology.  He supported his mechanistic hypothesis with research in the velocity of impulse in static nerves of frog legs and other nerve impulses. (

        One of Hermannís greatest achievements was in the area of physiological acoustics. This work was his resonance theory of hearing. Itís 1869 modifies form suggested that ďtransverse fibers of the basilar membrane of the cochlea serve as tuned resonatorsĒ (

        Hermann was also and important contributor to the area of optics.  He invented the ophthalmoscope, which is a device, which examines the retina of the eye.  This invention allows us to check for retinal disorders and is still used today. (Schultz, 2000) 

        He later wrote a three-volume piece on physiological optics called Handbook of Physiological Optic, which he wrote between 1856 and 1866. He also wrote On the Sensations of Tone in 1863. This work was a summarization of his findings and modern related literature.  Hermann was also responsible for the tri-color theory that stated that humans have three visual receptors, which respond to there own colors.  He wrote about many different subjects including color blindness, afterimages, and human eye movements the Arabian-Persian musical scale, geometrical axioms, the formation of glaciers and even hay fever. (Schultz, 2000)

        His accomplishments in the area of optics later became useful to psychology in the area of sensation and perception.  In my opinion based on his numerous accomplishments he was a genious in his time and would be a genious in ours.

Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, Helmholtz, Hermann von Retrieved, May 6, 2002, from

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1995 August). Retrieved, April 15, 2002, from 

Hermann Helmholtz. Retrieved, April 15, 2002, from

Schultz, D.P., & Schultz, S. E. (2000). A history of modern psychology (7th ed.). Harcourt College Publishers.



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