Biography of Christian Doppler, Mathematician and Physicist

Portrait of Christian Doppler (1830)
Portrait of Christian Doppler (1830).

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Christian Doppler (November 28, 1803–March 17, 1853), a mathematician and physicist, is best known for describing the phenomenon now known as the Doppler effect. His work was essential to the advancement of fields like physics and astronomy. The Doppler effect has many practical applications, including medical imaging, radar speed guns, weather radars, and more.

Fast Facts: Christian Doppler

  • Full Name: Christian Andreas Doppler
  • Occupation: Physicist and mathematician
  • Known For: Discovered the phenomenon known as the Doppler effect
  • Born: November 28, 1803 in Salzburg, Austria
  • Died: March 17, 1853 in Venice, Italy
  • Spouse's Name Mathilde Sturm
  • Children's Names: Matilda, Bertha, Ludwig, Hermann, Adolf
  • Key Publication: "On the Coloured Light of the Binary Stars and Some Other Stars of the Heavens" (1842)

Early Life

Christian Andreas Doppler was born into a family of stonemasons in Salzburg, Austria on November 29, 1803. He was expected to join the family business, but his poor health prevented him from doing so. Instead, he pursued academic interests. He studied physics at the Polytechnical Institute in Vienna, graduating in 1825. He then went on to the University of Vienna to study mathematics, mechanics, and astronomy.

For many years, Doppler struggled to find work in academia, and for a time he worked as a bookkeeper at a factory. Doppler's academic career took him from Austria to Prague, where he married and began a family with Mathilde Sturm, with whom he had five children.

The Doppler Effect

Over the course of Doppler's academic career, he published well over 50 papers on subjects including physics, astronomy, and mathematics. In 1842, as a result of his physics research, he published a treatise entitled "Concerning the Coloured Light of Stars." In it, he described what is now known as the Doppler Effect. Doppler observed that, when he was stationary, the pitch of sound changed as a source moved towards or away from him. This led him to assume that the light from a star might shift in color according to its speed relative to Earth. This phenomenon is also called the Doppler shift. 

Doppler published several works describing his theories. Numerous researchers demonstrated those theories through experimentation. After his death, researchers were able to prove that the Doppler effect could be applied to light, in addition to sound. Today, the Doppler effect has enormous significance and numerous practical applications in fields like astronomy, medicine, and meteorology.

Later Career and Death

In 1847, Doppler moved to Schemnitz in Germany, where he taught physics, math, and mechanics at the Academy of Mines and Forests. Political troubles forced the Doppler family to move once again—this time to the University of Vienna, where he was appointed director of the Physical Institute.

By the time Doppler was appointed to his post at the University of Vienna, his health had begun to deteriorate even more. He suffered from chest pains and breathing problems, symptoms that today would most likely have led to a tuberculosis diagnosis. He continued to research and teach, but illness kept him from completing all of his research. In 1852, he traveled to Venice, Italy, looking for a better climate in which he could recuperate, but his health continued to fail. On March 17, 1853, he died of pulmonary disease, with his wife at his side.  

Christian Doppler left a significant scientific legacy. The Doppler effect has been used to advance research in astronomy, develop medical imaging technology, and much more.

Sources

  • "Doppler, Johann Christian." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/doppler-johann-christian
  • “Christian Andreas Doppler.” Clavius Biography, www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Doppler.html.
  • Katsi, V, et al. Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743612/.