Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, 1742 - 1799

portrait of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


Born: 1 July 1742, Ober-Ramstadt Darmstadt-Dieburg, Hessen
Died: 24 February 1799, G

Lichtenberg was a German satirist and scientist. The youngest of seventeen children, his intelligence was obvious early, so much so that the local Landgrave provided funds to pay for his mathematical studies in 1762. In 1763 he entered Göttingen University and became a professor there in 1769, remaining at that post until his death. Due to a malformation of his spine, Lichtenberg was a hunchback, and his condition worsened with time. Despite his unusual appearance he was one of the most popular and respected figures among the European intellectual elite of his time, and was popular with the ladies.

Lichtenberg is remembered now for his experiments in electricity and for discovering the branching patterns on dielectrics called Lichtenberg figures. He discovered them in 1777, when he created a giant electrophorus to create static electricity, with which he created strange tree-like patterns in fixed dust, demonstrating a principle used in modern xerographic printers and copiers.

He was one of the first people to introduce Benjamin Franklin's lightning rods to Germany, and introduced the standardized paper sizes used throughout most of the world other than the US and Canada. From his student years until his death, he kept a series of notebooks with quotes, observations and reflections. After his death, his sons and brothers published these notebooks as the Lichtenbergs Vermischte Schriften, and they earned him a reputation as one of the best aphorists in Western literary history. His satiric observations led him into conflict with many well-known contemporaries.

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