October 9 1873 – May 11 1916

Karl Schwarzschild was a German physicist. He is also the father of astrophysicist Martin Schwarzschild.

He is best known for providing the first exact solution to the Einstein field equations of general relativity, for the limited case of a single spherical non-rotating mass, which he accomplished in 1915, the same year that Einstein first introduced general relativity. The Schwarzschild solution, which makes use of Schwarzschild coordinates and the Schwarzschild metric, leads to the well-known Schwarzschild radius, which is the size of the event horizon of a non-rotating black hole.

Schwarzschild accomplished this triumph while serving in the German army during World War I. He died the following year from a painful autoimmune disease which he contracted while at the Russian front.

Schwarzschild was born in Frankfurt am Main. He was something of a child prodigy, having a paper on celestial mechanics published when he was only sixteen. He studied at Strasbourg and Munich, obtaining his doctorate in 1896 for a work on Jules Henri Poincar’s theories.

From 1897, he worked as assistant at the Kuffner observatory in Vienna.

From 1901 until 1909 he was a professor at the prestigious institute at Gottingen, where he had the opportunity to work with some significant figures including David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. Schwarzschild became the director of the observatory in Gottingen. He moved to a post at the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam in 1909.

From 1912, Schwarzschild was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 he joined the German army despite being over 40 years old. He served on both the western and eastern fronts, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the artillery.

While serving on the front in Russia in 1915, he began to suffer from a rare and painful skin disease called pemphigus. Nevertheless, he managed to write three outstanding papers, two on relativity theory and one on quantum theory. His papers on relativity produced the first exact solutions to the Einstein field equations, and a minor modification of these results gives the well-known solution that now bears his name: the Schwarzschild metric.

Schwarzschild’s struggle with pemphigus may have eventually led to his death. He died on May 11, 1916.


Schwarzschild Facts:

  • Karl Schwarzschild researched in various fields of science including celestial mechanics, quantum mechanics, stellar structure, instrumental astronomy, Halley’s comets and spectroscopy.
  • His research work in geometrical deviations in the optical system devised a formula to calculate the optical density of photographic material. The exponent used in this formula is now known as the ‘Schwarzschild exponent’. By using this formula, it became possible to get precise photographic measurements of intensities of even faint astronomical sources. This has been one of his major achievements.
  • Karl Schwarzschild was the first scientist who introduced correct Lagrangian formalism of the electromagnetic field.
  • While serving in the war front, he produced exact solutions to some of Einstein’s work in relativity theory using field equations. Einstein himself praised Karl for his excellent work.
  • “Inner Schwarzschild solution” is universal for solids, fluids, gases, Sun and stars. It is used successfully for measuring Schwarzschild radius of a non-rotating black hole, with the help of Schwarzschild coordinates and Schwarzschild metrics.
  • While suffering from the painful disease, pemphigus, Karl Schwarzschild wrote three marvellous papers, two on relativity theory and one on quantum theory. The papers on relativity theory provided an exact solution to the Einstein field equations and were called “Schwarzschild metric”.

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