# Ludwig Boltzmann: The Man Who Trusted Atoms

## Carlo Cercignani and Roger Penrose

### Abstract

This book looks at the life and personality, the scientific and philosophical work of Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist who made significant contributions to the development of the atomic theory. His tragic life, which ended in a suicide, is described in detail. A substantial part of the book is devoted to discussing his work establishing the atomic structure of matter, and his influence on modern physics. Boltzmann stands as a link between two other great theoretical physicists: James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century and Albert Einstein in the 20th. Maxwell, who is best known for his d ... More

This book looks at the life and personality, the scientific and philosophical work of Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist who made significant contributions to the development of the atomic theory. His tragic life, which ended in a suicide, is described in detail. A substantial part of the book is devoted to discussing his work establishing the atomic structure of matter, and his influence on modern physics. Boltzmann stands as a link between two other great theoretical physicists: James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century and Albert Einstein in the 20th. Maxwell, who is best known for his discovery of the laws governing electric and magnetic fields and light, first found the formula for the probability distribution of velocities of particles in a gas in equilibrium, but it was Boltzmann who derived the equation governing the dynamical evolution of the probability distribution, according to which the state of a gas, not necessarily in equilibrium, will actually change. Boltzmann's ideas were central to Max Planck's later analysis of black-body radiation at the turn of the century, in which he introduced the quantum of action, thereby firing the opening shot of the quantum revolution. In 1905, Einstein not only picked up on this idea and developed it further (in effect showing that the ‘atomic hypothesis’ applied even to light itself) but was also influenced by Boltzmann's concepts in two of his other famous papers of 1905, one in which he provided a method of determining molecular dimensions and the other in which he explained the nature of Brownian motion.

*Keywords: *
Ludwig Boltzmann,
atomic structure,
physics,
atoms,
atomic theory,
Max Planck,
Albert Einstein,
James Clerk Maxwell,
matter

### Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2006 |
Print ISBN-13: 9780198570646 |

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010 |
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198570646.001.0001 |

### Authors

#### Affiliations are at time of print publication.

Carlo Cercignani, *author*

Politecnico di Milano

Roger Penrose, *contributor*

Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford

More
Less