Frits Zernike (1888–1966)
16 July 1888
|Died||10 March 1966 (aged 77)|
|Alma mater||University of Amsterdam|
|Known for||Ornstein-Zernike equation|
Phase contrast microscopy
|Awards||Rumford Medal (1952)|
Nobel Prize for Physics (1953)
Fellow of the Royal Society
|Influences||Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn|
Frits Zernike (Dutch pronunciation: [frɪts ˈzɛrnikə]; 16 July 1888 – 10 March 1966) was a Dutch physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1953 for his invention of the phase-contrast microscope.
Frits Zernike was born on 16 July 1888 in Amsterdam, Netherlands to Carl Frederick August Zernike and Antje Dieperink. Both parents were teachers of mathematics, and he especially shared his father's passion for physics. He studied chemistry (his major), mathematics and physics at the University of Amsterdam.
In 1912, he was awarded a prize for his work on opalescence in gases. In 1913, he became the assistant of Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn at the astronomical laboratory of Groningen University. In 1914, Zernike and Leonard Salomon Ornstein were jointly responsible for the derivation of the Ornstein-Zernike equation in critical-point theory. In 1915, he obtained a position in theoretical physics at the same university and in 1920 he was promoted to full professor of theoretical physics.
In 1930, Zernike was conducting research into spectral lines when he discovered that the so-called ghost lines that occur to the left and right of each primary line in spectra created by means of a diffraction grating, have their phase shifted from that of the primary line by 90 degrees. It was at a Physical and Medical Congress in Wageningen in 1933, that Zernike first described his phase contrast technique in microscopy. He extended his method to test the figure of concave mirrors. His discovery lay at the base of the first phase contrast microscope, built during World War II.
He also made another contribution in the field of optics, it is related to the efficient description of the imaging defects or aberrations of optical imaging systems like microscopes and telescopes. The representation of aberrations was originally based on the theory developed by Ludwig Seidel in the middle of the nineteenth century. Seidel's representation was based on power series expansions and did not allow a clear separation between various types and orders of aberrations. Zernike's orthogonal circle polynomials provided a solution to the long-standing problem of the optimum 'balancing' of the various aberrations of an optical instrument. Since the 1960s, Zernike's circle polynomials are widely used in optical design, optical metrology and image analysis.
Zernike's work helped awaken interest in coherence theory, the study of partially coherent light sources. In 1938 he published a simpler derivation of Van Cittert's 1934 theorem on the coherence of radiation from distant sources, now known as the Van Cittert-Zernike theorem.
In 1953, Zernike won the Nobel Prize for Physics, for his invention of the phase-contrast microscope, an instrument that permits the study of internal cell structure without the need to stain and thus kill the cells.
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