Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes was a Dutch physicist and Nobel Prize winner.

Early life

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes was born on September 21, 1853, Groningen, Netherlands. His father was a brickwork owner by the name of Harm Kamerlingh Onnes while his mother was Anna Gerdina Coers of Arnhem.


In 1870, Kamerlingh Onnes attended the University of Groningen, from 1871 to 1873 he attended the University of Heidelberg. Onnes obtained his masters degree at Groningen in 1878 and a doctorate in 1879.


Onnes measured the electrical conductivity of pure metals, Kamerlingh Onnes found that at 4.2 K the resistance in a solid mercury wire immersed in liquid helium suddenly vanished. He was momentarily aware of the significance of his discovery. He named this phenomenon “superconductivity”. Soon enough his research was in focus of the global scientific community and he was awarded the Nobel prize in Physics in 1913.

Later life

Kamerlingh Onnes passed away on February 21, 1926, in Leyden due to illness and the delicate state of his health.

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes quotes

“According to my views, aiming at quantitative investigations, that is at establishing relations between measurements of phenomena, should take first place in the experimental practice of physics. By measurement to knowledge [door meten tot weten] I should like to write as a motto above the entrance to every physics laboratory.”

“The experiment left no doubt that, as far as accuracy of measurement went, the resistance disappeared. At the same time, however, something unexpected occurred. The disappearance did not take place gradually but abruptly. From 1/500 the resistance at 4.2K, it could be established that the resistance had become less than a thousand-millionth part of that at normal temperature. Thus the mercury at 4.2K has entered a new state, which, owing to its particular electrical properties, can be called the state of superconductivity.”