Heike Kamerlingh Onnes
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1913
Born: 21 September 1853, Groningen, the Netherlands
Died: 21 February 1926, Leiden, the Netherlands
Affiliation at the time of the award: Leiden University, Leiden, the Netherlands
Prize motivation: “for his investigations on the properties of matter at low temperatures which led, inter alia, to the production of liquid helium”
Prize share: 1/1
Heike Kammerlingh Onnes was born in Groningen, Netherlands, where he also received his doctorate in 1879. He later became a professor at the University of Leiden. There, he set up a modern laboratory where he conducted experiments in low-temperature physics. The same year he received the Nobel Prize for the production of liquid helium, he also discovered the phenomenon of superconductivity—when current passes through a material without any resistance. After World War I, Onnes was active in efforts to reconcile researchers from the Allies and the Central Powers.
When different substances are cooled to very low temperatures, their properties change. In 1908 Heike Kamerlingh Onnes used an ingenious apparatus to cool helium to liquid form. Fluid helium was carefully studied and also became an important aid for the cooling of different substances and charting their properties at low temperatures. In 1911 Kamerlingh Onnes discovered that the electrical resistance of mercury completely disappeared at temperatures a few degrees above absolute zero. The phenomenon became known as superconductivity.