Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853-1928)

Dutch physicist, born on 18 July 1853 in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Lorentz received his doctorate in physics from the University of Leiden in 1875. In 1878, he was made Chair of Theoretical Physics at the university, and remained in this post for most of his life.

Lorentz’s theories of electricity and magnetism revolutionised thinking about the nature of matter. He developed a mathematical theory of the electron, for which he won the 1902 Nobel Prize. This was shared with his student Pieter Zeeman, who had verified his work experimentally.

Lorentz and Irish physicist George Fitzgerald independently developed a mathematical formulation now known as the 'Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction'. This explained the apparent absence of relative motion between the Earth and the 'aether' (a medium formerly assumed to permeate space and fill the spaces between particles of matter). This work was further developed into the Lorentz transformations of 1904, which describe effects on objects moving at speeds close to the velocity of light. These form the basis of Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

He died in Haarlem, the Netherlands on 4 February 1928.