Benjamin Thompson

Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (British-American; March 26, 1753 – August 21, 1814) Physicist and inventor whose challenges to established physical theory were part of the 19th century revolution in thermodynamics. Rumford began the quantitative study of the conversion of work into heat by means of his famous cannon-boring experiments. Read more… More

Humphry Davy

Sir Humphry Davy (English; 17 December 1778 – 29 May 1829) Famous for many works including his ice rubbing experiment in which he rubbed two pieces of ice (inside of parallelepiped), stated by some to have occurred in a vacuum, located inside of a room colder than the freezing point of water, together, vigorously, to see if he could generate heat by friction, an idea contrary to the then-prevalent ‘caloric theory’ of the time. The significance of Davy’s ice-rubbing experiment helped to prove that heat was a mode of motion. Read more… More

Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot

Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (French; 1 June 1796 – 24 August 1832) Military engineer and physicist, often described as the “father of thermodynamics”. In his only publication, the 1824 monograph Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, Carnot gave the first successful theory of the maximum efficiency of heat engines. Carnot’s work attracted little attention during his lifetime, but it was later used by Rudolf Clausius and Lord Kelvin to formalize the second law of thermodynamics and define the concept of entropy. Read more… More

Julius von Mayer

Julius Robert von Mayer (German; November 25, 1814 – March 20, 1878) Physician and physicist and one of the founders of thermodynamics. He is best known for enunciating in 1841 one of the original statements of the conservation of energy or what is now known as one of the first versions of the first law of thermodynamics, namely that “energy can be neither created nor destroyed.” In 1842, Mayer described the vital chemical process now referred to as oxidation as the primary source of energy for any living creature. His achievements were overlooked and priority for the discovery of the … More

Hermann von Helmholtz

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (German; August 31, 1821 – September 8, 1894) Physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science. In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of thermodynamics. The largest German association of research institutions, the Helmholtz Association, is named after him. Read more… More