Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstätten

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Widmanstätten pattern appears when an iron meteorite is etched with nitric acid

Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstätten (13 July 1753 – 10 June 1849) was an Austrian printer and scientist. His name is sometimes given as Alois von Beckh-Widmannstätten or Aloys Beck, Edler von Widmannstätten.

Working life[edit]

During his youth, he was trained in the printing art by his father. His family owned exclusive printing rights in the Steiermark province, but this was lost in 1784 and Alois sold the business in 1807. In 1804, he ran a spinning mill in Pottendorf, Austria.

Starting in 1807, he was placed in charge of the Fabriksproduktenkabinett, a private collection of technology owned by the Emperor. In 1808, he was the director of the Imperial Porcelain works in Vienna.

Widmanstätten patterns discovery[edit]

In 1808, he independently discovered some amazing patterns, now called Widmanstätten patterns in iron meteorites, by flame-heating a slab of Hraschina meteorite.[1][2] The different iron alloys of meteorites oxidized at different rates during heating, causing color and luster differences.

He did not publish his discovery, but claimed it only through oral communication. Nevertheless, he received full credit for it, and Carl von Schreibers, director of the Vienna Mineral and Zoology Cabinet, named the structure after Widmanstätten.[3]

It is a little-known fact that the actual discoverer of Widmanstätten pattern was G. Thomson. In fact, during the period he spent in Naples, he discovered these figures by bathing a Krasnojarsk meteorite in nitric acid with the purpose of removing rust. In 1804, he published the discovery in French on the Bibliothèque Britannique,[3][4][5] so the full credit of the discovery should be assigned to G. Thomson due to chronological priority.[3][4][6]

Named after him[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meteoritics & planetary science: Volume 42, Ed. 9-12. Meteoritical Society at the University of Arkansas, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, 2007
  2. ^ O. Richard Norton. Rocks from Space: Meteorites and Meteorite Hunters. Mountain Press Pub. (1998) ISBN 0-87842-373-7
  3. ^ a b c John G. Burke. Cosmic Debris: Meteorites in History. University of California Press, 1986. ISBN 0-520-05651-5
  4. ^ a b Gian Battista Vai, W. Glen E. Caldwell. The origins of geology in Italy. Geological Society of America, 2006, ISBN 0-8137-2411-2 [1]
  5. ^ F. A. Paneth. The discovery and earliest reproductions of the Widmanstatten figures. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 1960, 18, pp.176-182
  6. ^ O. Richard Norton. The Cambridge encyclopedia of meteorites. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-62143-7.