Gustav Robert Kirchhoff was an obscure German physicist whose experiments and findings revolutionized modern science. Kirchhoff made findings in the area of Astronomy, Spectroscopy, and Circuitry. He taught for many years at different Universities, and published several books about Mathematical Physics. He also discovered two elements with the help of a chemist named Bunsen.
Kirchoff made many contributions have been in the field of circuitry. It was Kirchhoff that discovered the formulas to calculate basic parts of electrical networks. He also extended the theory of George Simon Ohm covering current flow in electrical conductors. He also released two rules that simplify the relationships between currents at junctions and loops.
However, Kirchoff is most famous for establishing the theory of spectrum analysis. This is the process of analyzing the light emitted by a heated material. By viewing the colored lines you can compute which element the light source is made of. Each element has its own distinct color. Using this method, you can determine the makeup of a material. In this manner Kirchhoff discovered two new elements.
Gustav Kirchhoff was born in the small town of Königsberg, East Russia (now Kalingrad, Russia) on March 12 1824. From the very beginning Kirchhoff knew what he wanted to do with his life. When he was a teenager he began to study under Carl Friedrich Gauss; the man who gave the first proof of the fundamental theorem of algebra. When he graduated form the University of Königsberg he was perfectly able to change science.
When he reached the age of 21 Kirchhoff announced “Kirchhoff’s Laws”. These allow for the calculation of the currents, voltages, and resistances of electrical networks. During this time he also expanded the theories of George Ohm. Kirchhoff generalized the equations describing current flow in the case of electrical conductors to three dimensions. He then further demonstrated that current flows through conductors at the speed of light.
During the next ten years Kirchhoff accepted many different jobs at universities around Germany. In 1847 Kirchhoff became a “Privatdozent” , or unsalaried lecturer, at the University of Berlin. Then in 1850 he accepted a position of “Extraordinary Professor of Physics” at the University of Breslau. Finally in 1854, he was appointed professor of physics at the University of Heidelberg. It was there that Kirchhoff teamed up with a chemist by the name of Robert Bunsen.
With Bunsen’s aid Kirchhoff pioneered Spectrum Analysis. They demonstrated that every element gives off a characteristic colored light when it is heated. When this light is separated by a prism it has a pattern of individual wavelengths specific for that element. With this knowledge Kirchhoff and Bunsen discovered two new elements. Cesium in 1860, and Rubidium in 1861. However, in the late 1860s the pair turned their attention to the stars. They found that when light passes through a gas, the gas will absorb those wavelengths that it would emit if it were heated. Kirchhoff used this knowledge to explain the Franhofer Lines. These were many dark lines in the Sun’s spectrum.
In 1875 Kirchhoff was appointed the Chair of Mathematical Physics at the University of Berlin. There he stayed to publish his works until he died on October 17 1887. The four volume work is entitled Vorlesungen über Mathematische Physik, or Lectures on Mathematical Physics.

Kirchhoff’s main contribution to science was the pioneering of Spectrum Analysis and the invention of the spectroscopes. The prism spectroscopes, used for chemical analysis, is one of two principal types of spectroscopes. It has a slit that lets in light from an external source, a group of lenses, a prism, and an eyepiece. The light passes through a special lens and through the prism. Next the image of the slit is focused at the eyepiece. What you see is a series of line called spectrum lines. Each one is a different color because the prism has separated the light. The process of spectrum analysis is used to identify the substance, the concentration of the substance, and the process has been used to give tremendous amounts of information on the structure of the atom.
Another feature of the spectroscopes is that the distance from the light it can be used is unlimited. This was demonstrated when helium was discovered on the Sun and named many years before it was found on Earth.