A Long Tradition: Physics Lectures since the 15th Century

Knowledge of the physical world has been imparted to students of Leipzig University since it was founded in 1409. At first, however, the writings of Aristotle were treated in Latin, and the magisters were sworn on them.

In 1557, the first professorship of physics in Leipzig was created. This took place as part of the establishment of the so-called professorships "alter Stiftung" ("of old foundation"), which were connected with a fixed salary. Since then at least the names and the background of the physics professors in Leipzig are known to us. In the 16th and 17th centuries their writings, however, have hardly advanced the progress of physics. This seems intelligible given the Latin tractates written in a scholastic manner, such as, for example, "De igne fatuo" ("About the ghost light") or "De quantitatibus occultis".

Johann Heinrich Winkler – Enlightener and Experimentalist

Already at the beginning of the 18th century, physics lectures in Leipzig were supported by demonstration experiments. The lists of devices have been preserved. Thus, a lasting tradition of physics in Leipzig was established and, with royal permission, these lectures were held in German.

Here, only J. H. Winkler shall be emphasized as one of the physics professors of the time from 1710 to 1785, which is related to the development of experimental physics. He initially worked as a teacher at St. Thomas School, Leipzig. As a supporter of Christian Wolff, a leading representative of the Enlightenment, he received an extraordinary professorship in philosophy in 1739. From 1742 to 1750 he was full professor of Greek and Latin, and from 1750 professor of physics. Soon after the beginning of his work at the university Winkler carried out experiments on electricity. With an improved electrostatic generator he was able to charge Leyden jars to high voltages. He carried out impressive demonstration experiments in Apels Garden on the Pleisse, to which even the princes of Saxony arrived from Dresden. Also Goethe belonged to his listeners later.

Winkler worked not only as "electrifier," but was also concerned with point discharges in vacuum, which can be seen as one point of origin for today's field emission applications. He published various writings, such as "On the effects of electricity upon him and his wife", which may have brought him the membership in the Royal British Society of Sciences. Like Otto von Guericke, who had also studied in Leipzig, Winkler was temporarily active as a mayor.

last modified: 30.08.2017