Famous Dutch Astronomers & Physicists

(Don't even begin to think this page is reasonably complete) 
The field of astronomy is one rich in tradition, being perhaps the oldest science (at the very least tying with agriculture for that distinction). Among the many historic figures in the field, there are perhaps a disproportionate number of astronomers from the tiny county of The Netherlands. Rumors of a 'Dutch Astronomy Mafia' are perhaps unfounded, but the fact remains that a staggering amount has been contributed to the field by the citizens of this small but charming country.

This fact has also been noticed by Eric Weisstein in his Treasure Trove of Scientific Biography.

A few of the notable Dutch countrymen who made their mark in astronomy & physics:
(obviously, more detailed bio's are in order, but here's what i have so far:)

Nicolaas Bloembergen (1920- ) - Won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering work in nonlinear optics.

Bart Jan Bok (1906-1983) - Suggested in 1947 that small dark globules of interstellar gas and dust (Bok Globules) were ungoing collapse on their way to forming new stars.

John Goodricke (1764-1786)- Born in my own mother's hometown of Groningen, The Netherlands. John Goodricke accomplished poineering work in variable star observations. He tragically died young, falling ill after a series of cold nights observing.

Samuel Goudsmit (1902-1978) - Demonstrated, with Uhlenbeck, that Pauli's forth quantum number could be interpreted as spin.

Hendrick Christoffel van de Hulst (1918- )- Predicted the existence of the 21 cm line during World War 2.

Christaan Huygens (1629-95) - Among his achievements, Huygens disovered both the rings of the planet Saturn, and it's major moon Titan. The Huygens probe on board the Cassini spacecraft bound for Saturn is named after this astronomer.

Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn (1851-1922) - Used density counts to establish the shape of the galaxy.

Gerard Peter Kuiper (1905-1973) - Kuiper is well known for his study of the Moon, and discovering Miranda, Nereid & an atmosphere on Titan. The Kuiper Belt, a disk of comets inside the Oort cloud, is named after him , in addtion to the KAO.

Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)- Perhaps miscredited with the invention of the microscope, Leewenhoek was one of many 16th century Dutch Spectacle makers that helped spur Galileo make use of the telescope to revolutionize astronomy and Western thought in general (see an intriguing related discussion at The History of the Light Microscope).

Hendrik Lorentz (1853-1928) - Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1902 for Physics, along with Zeeman, for his theory of electromagetic radiation, which in turn led to Einstein's theory of special relativity.

Willem Jacob Luyten (1899-1994) - Constrained the Hertzsprung - Russell diagram and refined our knownledge of our own galaxy though observations of massive numbers of stars.

Jan H. Oort (1900-1992) - Known for his proposition that comets come from a spherical shell surrounding the solar system, known as the Oort cloud, and for the Oort constants (e.g. see Lewis 1990).

Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1853-1926) - First to produce liquid helium, in 1908; awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1913 for this work.

Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960) - Established that Polaris is a Cepheid variable.

Maarten Schmidt (1929 - ) - Dutch-American astronomer who in 1963 identified spectral lines in quasars as highly red-shifted Balmer lines.

Willem de Sitter (1872-1934) - First to develop a cosmological model of an expanding universe, now known as the Einstein-de Sitter Cosmological Model.

Willebrord Snell (1591-1626)- Best know for his investigations into the refractive properties of light (see Snell's law in any basic physics textbook).

George Uhlenbeck (1900-1988) - Demonstrated, with Goudsmit, that Pauli's forth quantum number could be interpreted as spin.

Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837-1923) - Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1910 for his work on on the equation of state for gases and liquids.

Pieter Zeeman (1865-1943) - First to observe magnetic splitting of spectral lines, now know as the Zeeman effect. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1902, along with Lorentz.

Frits Zernike (1888-1966) - Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1953 for his demonstration of the phase contrast method, especially for his invention of the phase contrast microscope.

Part of this culture of excellence in astronomy is due to the institutions found in The Netherlands. The University of Leiden, the oldest university in the country (established in 1575), is home to Sterrewacht Leiden (Leiden Observatory). A page of links to other sites of interest may be found at the Leiden Observatory. The Sterrenkundig Instituut (Astronomical Institute) at Utrecht University is also a center for astronomy in The Netherlands, in addition to the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the University of Groningen, and the "Anton Pannekoek" Institute at the University of Amsterdam.

This page is maintained by Gerard van Belle (I just happen to be an astronomer who's also a first generation Dutch American). Please email me if you have suggestions for other notable additions (or downright glaring omissions) to this list!

Last modified on 3 March 2001.