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Richard Adolf Zsigmondy

Born  1865
Died  1929

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Austrian chemist, born April 1, 1865, Vienna; died September 23, 1929, Göttingen.

Biography of Richard Adolf Zsigmondy

Richard Adolf Zsigmondy was the son of Adolf Zsigmondy, a physician, who died when Zsigmondy was only 15 years old. Encouraged by their mother, Irma von Szakmary, Zsigmondy and his brothers lead an outdoor life, spending much of their time climbing, mountaineering, swimming and diving. He first studied chemistry under Professor Ernst Ludwig (1842-1815) of the Medical Faculty in Vienna, and then attended the Technische Hochschule in Vienna. In 1887 he went to Munich to study organic chemistry under Professor Wilhelm von Miller (1848-1899), and later obtained a similar position as assistant to the physicist Professor August Adolph Eduard Kundt (1839-1894) in Berlin.

In 1893 he was habilitated for chemistry at the Technische Hochschule – the Polytechnic University – in Graz and also accepted a teaching post there. In 1897 he obtained a position as scientist in the Firma Schott und Genossen in Jena. However, already in 1900 he left to exclusively pursue scientific research, living as a private scholar – ein Gelehrter. In 1907 he retired with his family to his estate in Terlage near Trient, but later that year he was appointed ordinary professor and Director of the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Göttingen. He held this position from 1908 until he retired in February, 1929, only few months before he died.

At Jena and as a professor at Göttingen, Zsigmondy conducted pioneering research in colloid chemistry. The idea of the ultramicroscope – making visible sub microscopic particles whose linear extension is below the microscope's resolution limit – originated from Zsigmondy and was developed in detail by him in cooperation with Heinrich F. W. Siedentopf, a physicist and optician with the Zeiss optical works, in 1903. This microscope is based on the dark field principle. In 1913 he invented the immersion microscope. He also invented two types filters, a membrane filter in 1918 and an ultra-fine filter in 1922.

In 1925, Zsigmondy was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on colloid chemistry and the invention of the ultramicroscope. This enabled him to overcome many of the difficulties he had encountered during the years 1922 and 1923, the years of hyperinflation, when the Institute suffered severe shortages of the most simple chemical materials and scientific research work became very difficult.


  • Zur Erkenntnis der Kolloide. Jena, G. Fischer, 1905; 2nd edition, 1919.
  • Lehrbuch der Kolloidchemie.
  • Kolloidforschung in Einzeldarstellungen.
  • Das kolloide Gold.
    With P. A. Thiessen. Leipzig, Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, 1925.
  • Colloids and the Ultramicroscope: A Manual of Colloid Chemistry and Ultramicroscopy.
    New York, Wiley, 1909. Translated by J. Alexander.
  • Über Kolloidchemie. Leipzig, 1907. 5th edition in two volumes, 1925-1927.

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