Victor Francis Hess Biography and Contributions To Physics


Who is Victor Francis Hess? Information on Victor Francis Hess biography, life story, works, discoveries and contributions to physics.

Victor Francis Hess; (1883-1964), Austrian-American physicist, who shared the 1936 Nobel Prize for physics (with Carl D. Anderson) for his discovery of cosmic radiation. He was born at Schloss Waldstein, Styria, Austria, on June 24, 1883, and was educated at the universities of Graz and Vienna. Except for two years as chief physicist of the United States Radium Corp. (1921-1923), he worked and taught in Austria from 1910 to 1938. Hess then taught physics at Fordham Üniversity until 1956, when he retired; he became a U. S. citizen in 1944. He died in Mount Vernon, N. Y., on Dec. 17, 1964.

Victor Francis Hess

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When Hess began his work, the world of physics was in turmoil. X-rays, radioactivity, and relativity had shaken the foundations of classical physics. Radioactivity in particular was a puzzle because the constant production of heat by radium seemed to violate the principle of the conservation of energy. Hess first investigated this phenomenon and then studied the conductivity of air caused by radium emanations.

It had long been known that the leaves of a charged gold-leaf electrometer would slowly collapse if the instrument were allowed to stand in air. In the 1890’s, Joseph John Thomson had shown that air becomes a conductor when ionized by X-rays or other radiation of high frequency. Physicists generally concluded that the air was ionized by radiation from radioactive substances in the ground and air, the ionization then permitting the electrometer to discharge.

After it was discovered in 1910 that the air at the top of the Eiffel Tower (984 feet, or 300 meters) was less ionized than that at the bottom, Hess employed balloons (1911-1913) to determine how high the background radiation extended. He found to his surprise that, above an altitude of about 1 mile (1.6 km), the radiation actually increased. He assumed that this radiation originated in space; in 1925 it was named cosmic radiation. Cosmic rays became a new tool for exploring the atom.


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