Georg Wilhelm Richmann

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File:Richmanns Tod 1753.jpg
Richmann and his engraver during the electrocution in St. Petersburg.

Georg Wilhelm Richmann (Russian: Георг Вильгельм Рихман) (July 22, 1711 – August 6, 1753 (old style: July 11, 1711 – July 26, 1753)) was a German physicist who lived in Russia. He proved that thunder clouds contain electric charge.

He was born into a Baltic German family in Pernau (today Pärnu, Estonia) in what had been Swedish Livonia but later became part of Imperial Russia as a result of the Great Northern War (1700–1721). His father died of plague before he was born, and his mother remarried. In his early years he studied in Reval (today's Tallinn, Estonia); later he studied in Germany at the universities of Halle and Jena.

In 1741 he was elected a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. He did pioneering work on electricity and atmospheric electricity, and also worked on calorimetry, in doing so collaborating with Mikhail Lomonosov. Richmann also worked as a tutor of the children of Count Andrei Osterman. In 1741 he translated Alexander Pope's Essay on Man into German from French.

He was electrocuted in St. Petersburg while "trying to quantify the response of an insulated rod to a nearby storm." He was attending a meeting of the Academy of Sciences, when he heard thunder. The Professor ran home with his engraver to capture the event for posterity. While the experiment was underway, a supposed ball lightning appeared and collided with Richmann's head leaving him dead with a red spot on his forehead, his shoes blown open, and parts of his clothes singed. An explosion followed "like that of a small Cannon" that knocked the engraver out, split the room's door frame, and tore the door off its hinges.[1][2] Reportedly, ball lightning traveled along the apparatus and was the cause of his death.[2][3] He was apparently the first person in history to die while conducting electrical experiments.[4]


File:Mort du Richmann.png
Richmann killed by lightning
  1. On 6 August 1753, the Swedish scientist Georg Wilhelm Richmann was electrocuted in St. Petersburg while trying to quantify the response of an insulated rod to a nearby storm. The incident, reported worldwide, underscored the dangers inherent in experimenting with insulated rods and in using protective rods with faulty ground connections. [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Clarke, Ronald W. (1983). "Benjamin Franklin, A Biography". Random House. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-84212-272-3. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Frenchman Thomas François D'Alibard used a 50-foot (15 m) long vertical rod to draw down the "electric fluid" of the lightning in Paris on May 10, 1752. One week later, M. Delor repeated the experiment in Paris, followed in July by an Englishman, John Canton. But one unfortunate physicist did not fare so well. Georg Wilhelm Reichmann attempted to reproduce the experiment, according to Franklin's instructions, standing inside a room. A glowing ball of charge traveled down the string, jumped to his forehead and killed him instantly - providing history with the first documented example of ball lightning in the process." Krider, E. Philip (2006). "Benjamin Franklin and Lightning Rods". Physics Today. American Institute of Physics. 59 (1): 42–48. Bibcode:2006PhT....59a..42K. doi:10.1063/1.2180176. Retrieved 3 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Physicists create great balls of fire - fundamentals - 07 June 2006 - New Scientist[dead link]