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Next: John William Strutt (Lord Up: Biographies of Major Figures Previous: Galileo Galilei   Index

Ernest Mach (1838-1916)

Ernst Mach was born in 1838 in Chrlice (now part of Brno), when Czechia was still a part of the Austro-Hungary empire. Johann, Mach's father, was a high school teacher who taught Ernst at home until he was 14, when he studied in Kromeriz Gymnasium, before he entered the university of Vienna were he studies mathematics, physics and philosophy. He graduated from Vienna in 1860. There Mach wrote his thesis "On Electrical Discharge and Induction." Mach was interested also in physiology of sensory perception.

Figure 1.6:
Photo of Ernest Mach
At first he received a professorship position at Graz in mathematics (1864) and was then offered a position as a professor of surgery at the university of Salzburg, but he declined. He then turned to physics, and in 1867 he received a position in the Technical University in Prague1.48 where he taught experimental physics for the next 28 years.

Mach was also a great thinker/philosopher and influenced the theory of relativity dealing with frame of reference. In 1863, Ernest Mach (1836 - 1916) published Die Machanik in which he formalized this argument. Later, Einstein was greatly influenced by it, and in 1918, he named it Mach's Principle. This was one of the primary sources of inspiration for Einstein's theory of General Relativity.

Figure: The Photo of the bullet in a supersonic flow that Mach made. Note it was not taken in a wind tunnel
Mach's revolutionary experiment demonstrated the existence of the shock wave as shown in Figure 1.7. It is amazing that Mach was able to photograph the phenomenon using the spinning arm technique (no wind tunnel was available at that time and most definitely nothing that could take a photo at supersonic speeds. His experiments required exact timing. He was not able to attach the camera to the arm and utilize the remote control (not existent at that time). Mach's shadowgraph technique and a related method called Schlieren Photography are still used today.

Yet, Mach's contributions to supersonic flow were not limited to experimental methods alone. Mach understood the basic characteristics of external supersonic flow where the most important variable affecting the flow is the ratio of the speed of the flow1.49 (U) relative to the speed of sound (c). Mach was the first to note the transition that occurs when the ratio U/c goes from being less than 1 to greater than 1. The name Mach Number (M) was coined by J. Ackeret (Prandtl's student) in 1932 in honor of Mach.

next up previous index
Next: John William Strutt (Lord Up: Biographies of Major Figures Previous: Galileo Galilei   Index
Created by:Genick Bar-Meir, Ph.D.
On: 2007-11-21