Kristian Birkeland

Kristian Olaf Bernhard Birkeland (1867 - 1917)

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Kristian Olaf Bernhard Birkeland
Born in Christiana, Norwaymap
Ancestors ancestors
[spouse(s) unknown]
Died in Tokyo, Japanmap
Profile last modified | Created 25 Dec 2017
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Kristian Birkeland is Notable.


Kristian Olaf Bernhard Birkeland


13 December 1867
Christiana, Norway


May 1905
Ida Charlotte Hammer


15 June 1917
Tokyo, Japan
Birkeland had been using a drug called Veronal to help him sleep, but this has also caused him to be extremely paranoid. When he travelled to Japan to visit some colleagues from the University of Tokyo, he was found dead inside his hotel room in Hotel Seiyoken on June 15, 1917. It was discovered that he had taken 10g of Veronal instead of the 0.5g that was prescribed. A lot of mystery still clouds the circumstances of his death although a lot of people believe that this was a case of suicide.[1]


Kristian Olaf Bernhard Birkeland (13 December 1867 – 15 June 1917) was a Norwegian scientist. He is best remembered for his theories of atmospheric electric currents that elucidated the nature of the aurora borealis. In order to fund his research on the aurorae, he invented the electromagnetic cannon and the Birkeland-Eyde process of fixing nitrogen from the air. Birkeland was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times.

Birkeland was born in Christiania (Oslo today) to Reinart Birkeland and Ingeborg (née Ege)[3] and wrote his first scientific paper at the age of 18. Birkeland married Ida Charlotte Hammer in May 1905. They had no children and, due to Birkeland's preoccupation with his work, they divorced in 1911.[2]

Scientific Contributions

Birkeland... ...has been called "the first space scientist" and "the father of plasma experiments in the laboratory and space". He is perhaps most well-known for his scientific work on the aurora using a terrella (a magnetized globe), and as inventor of an electromagnetic cannon, and, a method of electrically producing artificial fertilizer. He also became a full professor of physics at the University of Oslo at the age of 31.

Birkeland also had astrophysical research published on cathode rays, the Zodiacal lights, comets, the Sun and sunspots, the origin of planets and their satellites, the Earth's magnetism.

Some of Birkeland's other contributions to science included:

• Derived the general expression for the Poynting vector.
• Gave the first general solution to Maxwell's equations.
• Pioneered the field of charged-particle beams.
• Utilized the concept of "longitudinal mass".
• Constructed the first foil diodes.
• Pioneered the field of visible-light photography of electrical discharges.
• Advocated charged-particle propulsion engines for space travel.
• Created Norsk Hydro's nitrogen-fertilizer industry (the Birkeland-Eyde method for production of potassium nitrate).
• Invented an electromagnetic rail gun capable of firing a 10-kg projectile.
• Established Birkeland's Firearms company.
• Anticipated cosmic rays (discovered in 1911) with his calculations involving energies of several billion electron volts.
• Held patents on the electromagnetic cannon, electric blankets, solid margarine, and hearing aids.

In 1969 when field-align currents had been identified in the Earth's atmosphere, they were named in his honor: Birkeland currents.[3]


Kristian Birkeland saw the lights[4]

Further Reading

Kristian Birkeland: The first space scientist

Alv Egeland, Department of Physics, University of Oslo[5]

Birkeland Currents

A brief introduction to Birkeland Currents[6]


  1. FamousScientists
  2. Wikipedia
  3. PlasmaUniverse
  4. The Guardian, May 13, 2001
  5. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
  6. EverythingsElectric

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Images: 2
Kristian Birkeland
Kristian Birkeland

Birkeland in his Laboratory
Birkeland in his Laboratory


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