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Karl Schwarzschild

Karl Schwarzschild (October 9, 1873 - May 11, 1916) was born in Frankfurt am Main to Jewish parents. He studied in Strasbourg and Munich, obtaining his doctorate for work on Jules Henri Poincaré's theories in 1896. In 1897, he began working as an assistant at the Kuffner observatory in Vienna. From 1901 until 1909 he was a professor at the prestigious Göttingen institute, where he had the opportunity to work with some significant individuals including David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. 1901 Schwarzschild became the director of the observatory in Göttingen.

In the middle of the 19th century Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen developed spectral analysis. It provided the possibility of obtaining information about physical parameters and chemical abundances of stars through spectral analysis of their light. Initiated by Wilhelm Foerster and Hermann v. Helmholtz, the Astrophysical Observatory Potsdam (AOP) was founded on July 1, 1874. In 1908, one of the most famous astrophysicists of the century, Karl Schwarzschild, became director of the AOP. In only a few years of work (he died of an illness in 1916) Schwarzschild made fundamental contributions to astrophysics and the general theory of relativity (GTR). Schwarzschild found the first solution to Einstein's equations before they were published in their final form. The 'Schwarzschild solution,' describes the motion of spherically symmetric fields around both the sun and black holes. (Schwarzschild gave the first exact solution of Albert Einstein’s general gravitational equations, which led to a description of the geometry of space in the area around a mass point.)

Thousands of dissertations, articles, and books have since been devoted to the study of Schwarzschild's solutions to the Einstein field equations. However, even though Schwarzschild's best known work lies in the area of general relativity, his research interests were extremely broad, including work in celestial mechanics, observational stellar photometry, quantum mechanics, instrumental astronomy, stellar dynamics, stellar statistics and spectroscopy. Some of his particular achievements include measurements of variable stars using photography, and the improvement of optical systems through the perturbative investigation of geometrical aberrations.


(Picture: Karl Schwarzschild: Collected works; H.H. Voigt. Vol.1 Berlin [u.a.] Springer, 1992 (Univ. Göttingen))