Adriaan Fokker and his organ in 1950
|Born||Adriaan Daniël Fokker
17 August 1887
Buitenzorg, Dutch East Indies
|Died||24 September 1972
|Alma mater||Delft University of Technology
University of Leiden
|Known for||Fokker–Planck equation
Fokker periodicity block
|Institutions||University of Leiden
|Doctoral advisor||Hendrik Lorentz|
Adriaan Daniël Fokker (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈaːdriaːn ˈdaːniɛl ˈfɔkər]; 17 August 1887 – 24 September 1972) was a Dutch physicist and musician. He was the inventor of the Fokker organ, a 31-tone equal-tempered organ.
Life and work
Fokker studied mining engineering at the Delft University of Technology and physics at the University of Leiden with Hendrik Lorentz, where he earned his doctorate in 1913. He continued his studies with Albert Einstein, Ernest Rutherford and William Bragg. In his 1913 thesis, he derived the Fokker–Planck equation along with Max Planck. After his military service during World War I he returned to Leiden as Lorentz' and Ehrenfest's assistant. In 1928 Fokker succeeded Hendrik Lorentz as director of research at Teylers Museum in Haarlem.
Fokker made several contributions to special relativity, and some less well-known contributions to general relativity, particularly in the area of geodetic precession, the phenomena of precession of a freely falling gyroscope in a gravitational field.
Fokker began to study music theory during the Second World War, when the University of Leiden was closed; partly this was due to a desire to convince the Nazis he would be of no use to the war effort, and partly it was a response to reading the work of Christiaan Huygens on the 31 equal temperament.
In 1938, Fokker – along with Dirk Coster and Otto Hahn – helped Jewish-born physicist Lise Meitner escape from Austria to the Netherlands. "Fokker and Coster both knew that university positions were virtually unavailable for foreigners. Laboratory space was not a problem, however, either in Groningen or Haarlem. 'Perhaps we can tap colleagues for regular contributions,' Coster suggested. Fokker set a goal of f.20,000, enough to support Meitner for five years, and immediately began contacting colleagues for advice and donations." They were unsuccessful in obtaining funding, but Fokker succeeded in getting official permission for Meitner to leave, although he was unable to telegraph that to her due to secrecy. She escaped barely in time to evade arrest. 
The year 1942 consequently marked a turning point in his life; after then he wrote many pieces in 31-equal, which are notable for using the 7th harmonic as a consonant interval (31-equal has a much better approximation of the 7th harmonic than the ubiquitous 12-equal). He also made notable contributions to music theory, such as the Fokker periodicity block.
Fokker designed and had built a number of keyboard instruments capable of playing microtonal scales via a generalized keyboard. The best-known of these is his 31-tone equal-tempered organ, which was installed in Teyler's Museum in Haarlem in 1951. It is commonly called the Fokker organ. The Fokker organ is currently property of the Huygens-Fokker Foundation and it moved to the Bamzaal in Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. Regularly concerts take place on this instrument in the Bamzaal.
References and notes
- Adriaan Fokker (1913). "Over Brown'sche bewegingen in het stralingsveld, en waarschijnlijkheids-beschouwingen in de stralingstheorie" (PDF).
- Jean Eisenstaedt, Anne J. Kox (1988). Studies in the History of General Relativity. Birkhäuser. p. 42. ISBN 0-8176-3479-7.
- Ruth Lewin Sime, "Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics", University of California Press, June 1997. Retrieved September 19, 2013. See chapter 8, "Escape."
- "A.D. Fokker (1889 - 1972)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Adriaan Fokker.|
- Adriaan Fokker and the Archiphone on '120 Years Of Electronic Music'
- Short biography from the Huygens–Fokker Foundation
- H.A.M. Snelders, "Fokker, Adriaan Daniël (1887–1972)", in Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland. [13-03-2008]