Ambitious and indomitable are two words that perfectly describe Christian Doppler’s personality. A leading mathematician and physicist of his time, Christian Doppler contributed greatly in the field of science and brought about the novel concept, today popularly known as the Doppler Effect. His endowment towards mathematics was seen right from his very childhood. Like other scientists of his era, Doppler, despite being talented and versatile, did not gain instant stardom. Conversely, it was his years of hard work and perseverance that gave Doppler his due recognition and acknowledgement. This biography provides detailed information on the life and works of Christian Doppler. Read on to know more.
Christian Doppler was born on November 29, 1803 in the family of stonemasons. Since the family ran a successful business, it was natural to believe that young Doppler too would take up stonemasonry as a career. However, recurring illness and poor physical condition did not allow Doppler to follow his family tradition. As such, his father thought book-keeping of the family business would serve as a preferable career option for young Doppler. After completing his primary and secondary schooling from Salzburg and Linz respectively, junior Doppler was sent to the Vienna Polytechnic Institute, under the recommendation of the professor of mathematics at the Salzburg Lyceum, who had noticed Doppler’s interest and talent in mathematics. In 1822, Doppler enrolled himself at the Institute, which was fairly a new one, being established in the year 1815. Doppler graduated from the Institute in the year 1825, excelling in mathematics and other subjects. He returned to Salzburg to attend the philosophy lectures. Meanwhile, to support himself, Doppler engaged in giving classes in mathematics and physics. He, then, went to the University of Vienna, wherein he educated himself in higher mathematics, mechanics and astronomy.
Doppler completed his studies four years later, in 1829 and was immediately appointed as an assistant to Professor Burg, the professor of higher mathematics and mechanics in the University of Vienna. The next four years of Doppler’s life was spent under the guidance of Professor Burg. It was during this time that Doppler published four mathematics papers, his first being, A contribution to the theory of parallels. Since the position of assistantship that Doppler was holding was temporary in nature, Doppler started looking for permanent employment. He applied in various schools across Linz, Salzburg, Gorizia, Ljubljana, Vienna, Zurich and Prague but faced rejection every single time. As such, Doppler took up the position of book-keeping in a cotton spinning factory as means to support his livelihood. This was a troubled and distressing phase for Doppler, who tried every possible way to surmount it. He even had a word with the American consul in Munich about the chances of emigrating and finding a teaching job in America. However, just then, Doppler was offered two teaching jobs, one in Switzerland and the other in Prague. He selected the latter option, that of a teacher in the Secondary Technical School in Prague.
As a Teacher
Doppler commenced his duty as a teacher of elementary mathematics in the Technical School only in March 1835. However, Doppler, ambitious as he was, wasn’t satisfied with the job and thus applied for positions of professor of higher mathematics at the Polytechnic Institute in Vienna and at the Polytechnic in Prague. Though he met with failure in both the places, from 1836 until 1838, he was able to teach higher mathematics for 4 hours a week at the Polytechnic Institute in Prague. In 1837, the position ofprofessorship in practical geometry and elementary mathematics was vacant at the Polytechnic in Prague. Doppler seized the opportunity right at once and assumed the duties that the office put forward. But just as they say, life is unpredictable all the while, an unanticipated and startling thing happened in 1839 when a competition was held for the office that Doppler was holding. Though Doppler was not required to take part in the competition, he was hurt by the fact that the competition was held at the first place. In the March of 1841, Doppler was formally appointed as a full-time Professor.
A year later, in 1842, Doppler gave a lecture to the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences and consequently published his most notable work, Über das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne und einiger anderer Gestirne des Himmels (On the coloured light of the binary stars and some other stars of the heavens). In this work, Doppler proposed his principle that the observed frequency of a wave depended on the relative speed of the source and the observer. Doppler applied his principle first in the field of astronomy and used it to explain the color of binary stars. He stated that all stars emitted white light and that the color of some of the stars was due to their motion towards or away from the planet Earth. Though changes in color of the star were impossible to examine given the instruments used during that time, the principle when applied to sound seemed to be perfect. An apparent shift in the frequency of waves received by an observer depends on the relative motion between the observer and the source of the waves. Later the next year, i.e. in 1843, he was elected to the Royal Bohemian Society.
Doppler’s weak physical condition did pose to him some trouble as he found teaching at the Polytechnic a strenuous job. In 1844, he requested for a sick leave. Meanwhile, his students complained about Doppler being too strict and harsh in his examining. As such, Doppler was investigated and reprimanded. Though the reprimand was withdrawn in the end of 1844, his health did not allow him to return to his duties until 1846. In June 1845, Doppler engaged in an interesting experiment wherein he employed two set of trumpeters. While one set was stationed at the railway station, the other was in the train car that was to be pulled past the station. Though both the set of trumpeters where playing the same music at the same time, the notes heard to the audience were different. As such, in 1846, Doppler published a revised edition of this principle wherein he considered both the motion of the source and that of the observer. In 1847, Doppler left Prague for the professorship of mathematics, physics, and mechanics at the Academy of Mines and Forests in Schemnitz (Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia). The same year, he was appointed deputy secretary of the Royal Bohemian Society.
In 1848, Doppler was elected to ordinary membership of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna and awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Prague. His stint at Banská Štiavnica, however, was a short one as the political unrest that broke out in Prague, Vienna and Budapest engulfed this small town as well. Keen on seeking a refuge, Doppler shifted base to Vienna Polytechnique, his alma mater, where he was appointed as a professor. On 17 January 1850 he was appointed as the first director of the new Institute of Physics at the Imperial University in Vienna. This can be termed as the highlight in the career graph of Christian Doppler. However, his ill health bounced back again as Doppler was struck with tuberculosis, which had spread to the larynx, making it increasingly difficult for Doppler to speak. Two years later, Doppler’s health deteriorated so much so that he took a six-month period of convalescence in Venice with the hope that the warmer climate would bring about some improvement, but this did not happen.
Christian Doppler tied the nuptial knot with Mathild Sturm, a native of Strasburg, in 1836. The couple was blessed with five children, including three sons and two daughters.
Christian Doppler breathed his last on March 17, 1853, after being infected by a pulmonary disease. He was buried in Venice. The city of Venice paid tribute to Doppler with a “grave of honour”, while the physicists of the city erected a plaque in the colonnades of the cemetery.