Talk:Hermann von Helmholtz

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Dear prospective editors, you might note that the use of the relative pronoun in the first sentence allows for ambiguity: it is logically unclear whether Helmholtz or his father is the intended subject of the subordinate clause.

I'm not sure where to write this, but the image in the article isn't one of a helmholtz-resonator. I've got the original book "Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik" and can provide an image of a resonator. But I acutually don't have time to scan it. The Picture in this article is of a part of the "apparatus for synthesizing vowels" (don't know how to call it in english). the small cylinder in front of the tuning fork is a resonator, but not in the original sense as an analytical instrument, it's for amplifying the sound of the fork. I'm only having a german account, so I cant log in here. If you have questions regarding helmholtz' work, feel free to contact me. -> —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:38, 26 July 2008 (UTC)

Heat death and free energy[edit]

Helmholtz free energy is presumably named for Helmholtz rather than a direct innovation of his, but who named it so and when? The honour would fit in with the wide supposition that he was first to propound the heat death of the universe but a citation would be nice. Cutler 11:55, July 13, 2005 (UTC)

As to heat death, I wrote up the history here: Heat death of the universe#Origins of idea; as to origin of the term "Helmholtz free energy", it seems to be Edward Guggenheim who first used the phrase, in his 1933 textbook Modern Thermodynamics by the Methods of Willard Gibbs, where he says:
We shall call F the "Helmholtz free energy" and G the "Gibbs free energy". (pg. 11)
The term "free energy" was used by Helmholtz in 1882 and next mention of "Helmholtz free energy" (that I can find) is found in the index of Gilbert Lewis and Merle Randall's Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances (1923), but they use the phrase "free energy" throughout the book. --Sadi Carnot 14:05, 13 July 2007 (UTC)

Origin of interest in acoustics[edit]

Henry Margenau, in his introduction to the Dover edition of On the Sensations of Tone, states:

"Helmhotz' interest in acoustics was aroused for the first time in 1852, apparently by mathematical errors in the publications of Challis, which he corrected."

There is no entry for "Challis" in my 1922 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians nor in the index of Benade's Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics. The only Challis in Wikipedia in James Challis. Is it he? Cutler 22:55, July 28, 2005 (UTC)

Nerve signals[edit]

Helmholtz is credited with measuring them at 90fps. Can someone confirm? Trekphiler 12:39, 2 December 2005 (UTC

Featured status[edit]

As the article states already HvH is considered one of the most eminent scientific figures in the 19th century. I think he deserves a larger article. Maybe there is a chance to apply for one of the community collaborations, e.g. Article Creation and Improvement Drive? Good luck! --Ben T/C 16:56, 18 September 2006 (UTC)

I'd vote for it. —Keenan Pepper 19:57, 20 September 2006 (UTC)


Wasn't the first edition of "On the sensation of tone" published in October 1862 and not 1863 as written in the article? Can someone confirm this? —Jenzo 12:16, 28 October 2006 (UTC)

Working from my 1954 Dover Publications edition:
  • Margenau's bibliography gives publication as "Verlag von Fr. Vieweg U. Sohn, Braunschweig, 1863"
  • Translator A.J. Ellis's note to the second English edition refers to "the first German edition of 1863"
  • Ellis's translation of Helmholtz' preface to the first German edition is endorsed "Heidelberg: October 1862"
I infer that Helmholtz finished writing in October 1862 put that the book didn't come off the presses until 1863. Hope that helps. Cutler 22:20, 28 October 2006 (UTC)

The biography is incomplete. There is a section on early life and practically nothing more. TomyDuby (talk) 20:38, 20 May 2009 (UTC)

The biography goes as far as 1871, in terms of actually cited dates. If you know of material to add after then, by all means feel free to do so.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 21:27, 20 May 2009 (UTC)

WikiProject class rating[edit]

This article was automatically assessed because at least one WikiProject had rated the article as start, and the rating on other projects was brought up to start class. BetacommandBot 04:06, 10 November 2007 (UTC)

Musical acoustics[edit]

It is a pity that "On the Perception of Tone" and Helmoltz's related work gets such a brief mention. This work is arguably the foundation of the modern study of musical acoustics, and later researchers would refer to it. It is a fascinating book. Helmholtz made an electro-magnetic voice synthesiser in the mid 19th century!

I would also suggest that, though it is related to his work on human physiology, as related to the hearing mechanism, this topic might belong in its own section. Just a thought. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Boynstye (talkcontribs) 01:13, 11 July 2009 (UTC)

Helmhotz's Biography[edit]

I think that it needs significant improvements. He was one of the giants of the 19-th century. TomyDuby (talk) 12:55, 10 February 2010 (UTC)

Alexander Graham Bell[edit]

This recent addition about Bell being inspired to invent the telephone from Helmholtz' work is a bit thin. The source does not exactly say that, it says that Bell misunderstood the German text as saying that sound could be transmitted over wires, something Helmholtz had not actually said. So Bell was inspired by his inability to read German properly, rather than anything Helmholtz did. Also, according to the source, this was the inspiration for Bell to continue experimenting with electricity, it does not say it led in any way to the telephone, although obviously there is a connection. My sources say the harmonic telegraph was the inspiration for the telephone, and this source agrees. There is some unwarranted synthesis going on here that needs removing from the article. SpinningSpark 02:03, 20 September 2010 (UTC)

Here's a source that predates the PBS special: [1]. It looks like he got his ideas from the figures, not from misreading the text (which he couldn't read). Dicklyon (talk) 03:00, 20 September 2010 (UTC)
No quarrel with any of this. I'm not familiar with the Bell story, and just wanted to fact-check and get a citation in place. I do think the distinction between work with electricity and the telephone (electronic sound transmission) is an arbitrary one. But would be happy to see this part improved if someone cares to do so.Oblivy (talk) 08:34, 20 September 2010 (UTC)
Yes, the distinction is arbitrary. Where I really feel this article is misleading is that it glosses over the fact the Bell completely failed to duplicate what he though was Helmholtz' result (because Helmholtz hadn't done it) and leaves the reader with the impression that the telephone is somehow based on Helmholtz' work. I will have a try at sorting this out, feel free to adjust my edit, we don't really want an article on Helmholtz to take too much of a detour into Bell. SpinningSpark 17:42, 20 September 2010 (UTC)

Factual error[edit]

Alexander j. Ellis' translation of On the Sensation of Tone.. was first published i 1875 not 1885. I can't find a reliable source, to correct all the information in the parenthesis, but I'm holding the first edition in my hand, and its is from 1875 published by Longmans, Green, and Co. and printed by Spottiswoode and Co., London — Preceding unsigned comment added by Magnuskaslov (talkcontribs) 17:47, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

I fixed it, but didn't bother trying to find the months. Dicklyon (talk) 18:05, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

Designation as a polymath[edit]

it seems appropriate to call him one, has anybody reservations about that ? Paranoid Android1208 (talk) 12:53, 9 June 2013 (UTC)


Hi! This quote "In 1871 he announced that the velocity of the propagation of electromagnetic induction was about 314,000 meters per second." looks suspicious to me. I don't have the means to look up his actual experimental setup, but my gut feeling says this is the speed of light give or take, so it should be kilometers per second. The reference looks fishy, some sort of cutnpaste who's who website, not what I'd call a reliable source. Nettings (talk) 00:29, 24 December 2013 (UTC)

Indeed, the number is wrong by 3 orders of magnitude and NNDB is no way a [[WP::RS]]. However, they didn't create the error, but inherited it. See this 1910 Britannica. It is corrected in other books. Dicklyon (talk) 05:33, 24 December 2013 (UTC)
Britannica seems to be so embarassed by this error that they no longer mention it (either the correct or incorrect version) in their current online edition. SpinningSpark 23:59, 24 December 2013 (UTC) is hard to argue that this is an error from the sources alone. The km/s version only appears in Encyclopedia Americana and that can't be taken as the most authoritative scholarly source. For instance, the m/s version appears in this article in the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine. It is written by Leslie A. Geddes, an electrical engineer, who we would expect to know better. Could it be that Helmholtz was actually out by three orders of magnitude? This is a tricky thing to measure in the laboratory without the aid of a fast (nanosecond) oscilloscope or other modern instruments. SpinningSpark 00:20, 25 December 2013 (UTC)
German WP does not say anything about this issue. I found two sources which might shed light on the issue: and, lectures and speeches by Helmholtz, not OCR'd though, and a bummer to browse. If/when I find something, I'll holler. Meanwhile, I'm betting several crates of beer it's 314.000 km/s :) Nettings (talk) 00:53, 25 December 2013 (UTC)
This translation of Koenigsberger's work on Helmholtz, while not actually stating a number, tends to agree with you.

After carrying out these experiments rigidly, without allowing himself to decide on any particular hypothesis, and taking the electrostatic and electrodynamic effects as action at a distance, which did not affect the surrounding insulating media and was not affected by them, he accepted the Faraday-Maxwell theory, which replaces action at a distance by the polarization of a medium, and assumes that the electric disturbances propagate themselves across an insulating dielectric in transverse waves, the velocity of which in air is equal to the velocity of light.

SpinningSpark 01:12, 25 December 2013 (UTC)

BCingU Eh (talk) 21:30, 27 February 2015 (UTC)

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