Last week I spoke with Ludwig Boltzmann’s great grandson: it was an honour and a pleasure.
Gerhard Fasol had e-mailed me to ask for details about plans to re-define the SI units of temperature (the degree Celsius and the kelvin) in terms of the Boltzmann constant.
Gerhard has a fairly impressive scientific CV in his own right, but of course his great grandfather’s legacy stands above his achievements and most other scientists. If there was a Premier league of scientists, he would be in it.
Boltzmann’s essentially took the ‘idea’ that atoms really existed, and turned the ‘idea’ into a detailed theory of matter with quantitative predictions and brilliant insights.
His ideas were not immediately accepted, which in retrospect makes his achievements all the greater. His motto was apparently
Say what is true;
Write the way that it is clear.
And advocate it until it is your opinion!
Physics has several ways of acknowledging the achievements of its ‘stars’. Their name can be used for an Equation, or a unit of measurement, or a fundamental physical constant. These honours are the scientific equivalent of having one’s paw-print set into the walk of fame.
And Boltzmann has a constant, k or kB, according to fashion, describing the link between temperature and energy. Scientists use this constant every day making his memory immortal, and raising his image to an almost mystical level
So speaking with his real great grandson was something of a shock! It reminded me that even ‘great’ people are people too, and I was happy to celebrate his birthday (he would have been 170) with my team today.
And we were very fortunate that Tesco had a suitable cake in store – what are the chances of that?