Hermann von Helmholtz - namesake of the Helmholtz Association, Germany´s largest research organization, is regarded today as a towering figure in the history of modern science. He is described as one of the most influential scientists during his lifetime, and a scientific genius with path-breaking achievements in multiple disciplines. Not the least, he also was a pioneer in managing scientific institutions, that range from his own (university) laboratories in Heidelberg and Berlin to the Imperial Physical Technical Institute (PTB), established in Berlin with financial support from a close friend, industrialist Werner von Siemens. The PTB could indeed be referenced as one of the first ‘private public partnerships’.
“All that science can achieve is a perfect knowledge and a perfect understanding of the action of natural and moral forces.” – Hermann von Helmholtz
Unconditional truth, reproducibility of results, empirical care, Hermann von Helmholtz's understanding of science was absolute, all-encompassing and interdisciplinary - important measures and policy topics in contemporary research!
He began his career as a physician in Berlin, later turning to physics, especially electrodynamics and thermodynamics. Nevertheless, he never saw his research as a profession; science was rather a purpose in life, his life's goal, in search of the perfect truth. Therefore, Helmholtz today ranks among the great polymaths, the geniuses of modern science.
“Each individual fact, taken by itself, can indeed arouse our curiosity or our astonishment, or be useful to us in its practical applications.” – Hermann von Helmholtz
His thirst for knowledge, his curiosity in combination with hard work and a great talent resulted in an enormous heritage presenting a contemporary understanding of nature. Compared to other outstanding scientists, this is not limited to a single discipline. Rather, he made important contributions to physiology, optics, acoustics, electrodynamics, thermodynamics, and hydrodynamics that continue to resonate today. His work is so extensive that it is still an integral part of modern research and his recently published biography a most valuable read!
See also: David Cohen: A Life in Science