Johann Jakob Balmer

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Johann Jakob Balmer (May 1 1825March 12 1898) was a Swiss mathematician and an honorary physicist.

He was born in Lausen, Switzerland, the son of a Chief Justice also named Johann Jakob Balmer. His mother was Elizabeth Rolle Balmer, and he was the oldest son. During his schooling he excelled in mathematics, and so decided to focus on that field when he attended university.

He studied at the University of Karlsruhe and the University of Berlin, then completed his Ph.D. from the University of Basel in 1849 with a dissertation on the cycloid. Johann then spent his entire life in Basel, where he taught at a school for girls. He also lectured at the University of Basel. In 1868 he married Christine Pauline Rinck at the age of 43. The couple had a total of six children.

Despite being a mathematician, he is not remembered for any work in that field; rather, his major contribution (made at the age of sixty, in 1885) was an empirical formula for the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom. Balmer's formula computed the wavelength as follows:

<math>\lambda\ = \frac{ hm^2 }{ (m^2 - n^2) }<math>

for n = 2, h = 3.6546 10-7 m, and m = 2, 3, 4, and so forth. Balmer then used this formula to predict the wavelength for n = 7, and a colleague at the university was able to confirm a match to a high degree of accuracy. A full explanation of why the formula worked, however, had to wait until the work of Niels Bohr in 1913.

Johann Balmer died in Basel.

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