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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index K > Gustav Robert Kirchhoff Quotes

Thumbnail of Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (source)
Gustav Robert Kirchhoff
(12 Mar 1824 - 17 Oct 1887)

German physicist who, with Robert Bunsen, established the theory of spectrum analysis.


Science Quotes by Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (1 quote)


From a Belgian collector card (1938). (source)
The highest object at which the natural sciences are constrained to aim, but which they will never reach, is the determination of the forces which are present in nature, and of the state of matter at any given moment—in one word, the reduction of all the phenomena of nature to mechanics.
— Gustav Robert Kirchhoff
In Über das Ziel der Naturwissenschaften (1865), 9. As translated in John Bernhard Stallo, The Concepts and Theories of Modern Physics (1882), 18. From the original German, “Das höchste Ziel, welches die Naturwissenschaften zu erstreben haben, ist die Verwirklichung der eben gemachten Voraussetzung, also die Ermittelung der Kräfte, welche in der Natur vorhanden sind, und des Zustandes, in dem die Materie in einem Augenblicke sich befindet, mit einem Worte, die Zurückführung aller Naturerscheinungen auf die Mechanik.”
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Quotes by others about Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (3)

Among the memoirs of Kirchhoff are some of uncommon beauty. … Can anything be beautiful, where the author has no time for the slightest external embellishment?—But—; it is this very simplicity, the indispensableness of each word, each letter, each little dash, that among all artists raises the mathematician nearest to the World-creator; it establishes a sublimity which is equalled in no other art, something like it exists at most in symphonic music. The Pythagoreans recognized already the similarity between the most subjective and the most objective of the arts.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 28-29, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 186. From the original German, “Gerade unter den zuletzt erwähnten Abhandlungen Kirchhoff’s sind einige von ungewöhnlicher Schönheit. … kann etwas schön sein, wo dem Autor auch zur kleinsten äusseren Ausschmückung die Zeit fehlt?–Doch–; gerade durch diese Einfachheit, durch diese Unentbehrlichkeit jedes Wortes, jedes Buchstaben, jedes Strichelchens kömmt der Mathematiker unter allen Künstlern dem Weltenschöpfer am nächsten; sie begründet eine Erhabenheit, die in keiner Kunst ein Gleiches,–Aehnliches höchstens in der symphonischen Musik hat. Erkannten doch schon die Pythagoräer die Aehnlichkeit der subjectivsten und der objectivsten der Künste.”
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Kirchhoff’s whole tendency, and its true counterpart, the form of his presentation, was different [from Maxwell’s “dramatic bulk”]. … He is characterized by the extreme precision of his hypotheses, minute execution, a quiet rather than epic development with utmost rigor, never concealing a difficulty, always dispelling the faintest obscurity. … he resembled Beethoven, the thinker in tones. — He who doubts that mathematical compositions can be beautiful, let him read his memoir on Absorption and Emission … or the chapter of his mechanics devoted to Hydrodynamics.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 30, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 187. From the original German, “Kirchhoff … seine ganze Richtung war eine andere, und ebenso auch deren treues Abbild, die Form seiner Darstellung. … Ihn charakterisirt die schärfste Präcisirung der Hypothesen, feine Durchfeilung, ruhige mehr epische Fortentwicklung mit eiserner Consequenz ohne Verschweigung irgend einer Schwierigkeit, unter Aufhellung des leisesten Schattens. … er glich dem Denker in Tönen: Beethoven. – Wer in Zweifel zieht, dass mathematische Werke künstlerisch schön sein können, der lese seine Abhandlung über Absorption und Emission oder den der Hydrodynamik gewidmeten Abschnitt seiner Mechanik.” The memoir reference is Gesammelte Abhandlungen (1882), 571-598.
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I had observed that there were different lines exhibited in the spectra of different metals when ignited in the voltaic arc; and if I had had any reasonable amount of wit I ought to have seen the converse, viz., that by ignition different bodies show in their spectral lines the materials of which they are formed. If that thought had occured to my mind, I should have discovered the spectroscope before Kirchoff; but it didn’t.
Address, in 'Report to the Chemical Society's Jubilee', Nature (26 Mar 1891), 43, 493. Words as in original text, occured and Kirchoff are sic.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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