Auguste Piccard Biography (1884-1962)


Auguste Piccard was a scientist and inventor whose exploring instincts took him to record heights and depths. He and his twin brother, Jean Felix, initially achieved prominence together, but Auguste's accomplishments were more sensational in nature and gained him a greater degree of popularity. The two brothers were influenced by their father, Jules, a chemistry professor, and theiruncle, Paul, who was commercially involved with hydroelectric projects. Auguste and Jean Felix earned doctorates at the Zurich Polytechnic School. Both went on to professorships at various institutions. While Jean Felix moved on to the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology inthe United States, Auguste stayed in Europe to work on his famous projects.

Even as a student at the Zurich School, Auguste was laying plans for his ventures. The Piccards began making balloon ascents in 1913 and participated in the balloon section of the Swiss Army. Auguste developed an airtight, pressurized gondola in 1930. On May 27, 1931, he made his first record-setting ascentin the gondola at Augsburg, Germany, to an altitude of 51,775 feet (15,781 m). The seventeen-hour flight landed him world attention. Another record flight from Zurich took him to 53,153 feet (16,201 m) in 1932. He continued his stratospheric activities for five more years, making his last flight in 1937.

In the late 1930s, Piccard began heading in the opposite direction, working on an idea for an independent deep-sea diving craft some think he first visualized when he was a student. From 1930, William Beebe and Otis Barton were making record dives in their bathysphere. The sphere was limited to vertical dives since it depended upon a tether and air supply from a surface support ship. Auguste Piccard's bathyscaphe, even in its earliest stages of conception, never required direct support. Auguste developed two craft, the French Navy FNRS-2 and the Trieste. On both, he took the lighter-than-air concept of stratospheric penetration and developed a compartmentalized envelopecontaining lighter-than-water gasoline weighted with ballast. He added to this a propeller system and a spherical pressure-resistant compartment. This combination gave him the free-moving craft that he was after. After years of research and test dives, Piccard's vessels started setting records. In 1954, a French team dove to 13,287 feet (4,050 m) off West Africa. Piccard's son, Jacques, took the Trieste to 35,800 feet (10,912 m) in the Marianas Trenchnear Guam in 1960 on the same day as Jean Felix's death.

Auguste Piccard was neither a meteorologist nor an oceanographer, yet his technical achievements were of great importance to both sciences. His inventionsand explorations took scientific research to new levels.

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