Hermann Johann Philipp Sprengel Biography (1834-1906)


Like so many of his contemporaries, Hermann Sprengel worked in Germany at thefamous laboratory of Robert Wilhelm Bunsen. Born and educated in Hanover, Germany, Sprengel moved to England in 1859, where he began research in chemistry at Oxford and continued his work at several laboratories in London.

Sprengel's invention of a more efficient vacuum pump in 1865 had far-reachingimplications for technological advances in many fields. For example, the vacuum pump was critical to the development of the incandescent light bulb, because early bulbs required a high vacuum to keep the carbon filament from beingeaten away by oxygen in the air. As early as 1860, Joseph Swan had developedan incandescent bulb, but the filament would not last long enough for practical use. Years later, Swan learned of Sprengel's vacuum pump from the work ofWilliam Crookes, who had found the device essential to his analysis of certain gases. Encouraged by this news, Swan resumed his research, but by that time, Thomas Edison had begun similar work. The two scientists are credited withintroducing the incandescent bulb at about the same time, in 1879.

Sprengel's pump made these inventions practical by providing an effective, economic means of producing high vacuums. Sprengel's pump was derived from Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Geissler's earlier version, which Sprengel improved by mechanizing the slow, tedious evacuation process. The invention of the radio, the television, and the digital computer also depended on vacuum technology. Early radios and televisions were constructed with vacuum tubes, also known asthermionic valves. Likewise, the first generation of computers used vacuum tubes, which have since been replaced by electronic components. Sprengel's technology also allowed more rapid progress in the field of atomic physics, which requires high vacuums for the study of small particles.

In addition to the vacuum pump, Sprengel developed a type of explosive that could be mixed at the blasting site, thus reducing the danger of transportinglive explosives over long distances.

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