Fritz Zwicky

Fritz Zwicky
Specialty Dark matter, galaxies, supernovae, neutron stars
Born Feb. 14, 1898
Varna, Principality of Bulgaria
Died Feb. 8, 1974 (at age 75)
Pasadena, California, USA
Nationality Swiss

Fritz Zwicky contributed significantly to the field of astronomy. He was a long time faculty member of Caltech, an institution known for its deep talent pool of astronomers and physicists. Zwicky can be considered one of the most influential astronomers to his innovative work in the field. In particular, he was a standout in the area of observational astronomy.

Zwicky’s Early Life

Fritz Zwicky was born in Varna, Bulgaria, on February 14, 1898. His father was Swiss and his mother Czech. The father was a prominent man in Switzerland who once served as an ambassador to Norway. His primary occupation was that of an industrialist. At a very young age, Fritz Zwicky was sent to live in Switzerland with his grandparents. The reason he was sent there was so he could study commerce.

Over time, his interests and skill sets changed as he grew older. Namely, he became more prominent in areas related to mathematics and physics. His higher education was procured at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Thanks in large part due to his excellent performance at the school, he was awarded a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. This allowed him to venture to the United States and perform research work at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Career Highlights

Zwicky crafted quite a number of cosmological theories over the course of his life. These were not generic works that merely offered slight variations of what had already existed. He was a trailblazer who promoted numerous theories that did have a great impact on the world of astronomy. A great deal of the modern understanding of the universe comes from many of his original works. In 1942, his skills received great recognition when he was made a full Professor of Astronomy at Caltech.

His abilities were also tapped by the private sector. The Aerojet Engineering Corporation employed him in a research and consulting capacity for nearly two full decades. He also was on the staff of the Mount Wilson Observatory and Palomar Observatory. A search of the records of the US patent office shows he holds more than four dozen patents with a large number of them being concentrated in the area of jet propulsion.

Contributions to Philosophy

Fritz ZwickyThe accomplishments of Zwicky are numerous. His career spanned numerous decades and he was not a person who sat back and rested on his accomplishments. He was always trying to move forward and build upon then. The field of astronomy is more the better for it thanks to his tireless work.

One of the more innovative ideas he came up with was to use supernovae as standard candles as a means of making estimates of distance in deep space. This work came after the research that made him well known, which was his studies and unique discoveries related to ionic crystals and electrolytes. Zwicky was also very influential in terms of raising awareness to the use of Schmidt telescopes. He even constructed an observatory to use the telescopes.

A tremendous discovery was made from the use of this telescope. He was able to come up with the term supernova to describe certain things he was observing in the skies above. He began to infer what he was seeing was the transition of normal starts into what are known as neutron stars. From these observations, he was also able to come up with theories about cosmic rays.

One of the most helpful of his contributions to astronomy was his work on cataloging galaxies. Over the course of seven years, he would publish six volumes in the Catalogue of Galaxies and of Clusters of Galaxies. These volumes would contribute greatly to future work in astronomy since a solid reference now existed to refer to.

Other significant contributions he would make included work on gravitational lenses, dark matter, and tired light.

Zwicky’s Death

On February 8, 1974, at the age of 74, Fritz Zwicky passed away. He was living in Pasadena, CA, at the time.