DopplerJohann Christian Andreas Doppler (November 29, 1803 – March
17, 1853) was an Austrian mathematician and physicist, most famous for
the hypothesis of what is now known as the Doppler effect which is the
apparent change in frequency and wavelength of a wave that is perceived
by an observer moving relative to the source of the waves.
Christian Doppler was born in Salzburg as the son of a stone-mason.
However he could not work in his father's business because of his generally
weak physical condition. After completing high school he studied astronomy
and mathematics in Vienna and Salzburg and started to work at the Prague
Polytechnic (now Czech Technical University), where he was appointed
professor for mathematics and physics in 1841.
Only one year later
at the age of 39 he published his most notable work on the Doppler effect
(for instance to be noticed in the change of sound of a quickly passing
vehicle). In his time in Prague as professor he published more than
50 articles in mathematics, physics and astronomy.
His research career
in Prague was interrupted by the revolutionary incidents of March 1848,
when he fled to Vienna. There he was appointed head of the Institute
for Experimental Physics at the University of Vienna in 1850.
He died from a Pulmonary
Disease in Venice aged 49 on March 17th, 1853.
Born: 29 Nov 1803
in Salzburg, Austria
Died: 17 March 1853 in Venice, Italy
family were stonemasons who had a successful business in Salzburg, Austria
from 1674. The prospering business led to the building of a fine house
in the Hannibal Platz [now named Makart Platz] in Salzburg, near to
the river. Christian Doppler was born in this family house and, of course,
the family tradition would have had him grow up to take over the stonemason's
business. However his health was never very good and he was quite frail
so he could not follow in the family tradition.
primary school in Salzburg and then attended secondary school in Linz.
His parents were unsure of his academic potential and consulted the
professor of mathematics at the Salzburg Lyceum who recommended that
Doppler should study mathematics at the Vienna Polytechnic Institute.
The Polytechnic Institute had only been founded in 1815, so it was still
a new establishment when Doppler began his studies there in 1822. He
excelled in his mathematical and other studies and graduated in 1825.
After this he returned to Salzburg, attended philosophy lectures at
the Salzburg Lyceum, then went to the University of Vienna where he
studied higher mathematics, mechanics and astronomy.
At the end of his
studies at the University of Vienna in 1829, Doppler was appointed as
assistant to the professor of higher mathematics and mechanics at the
University, Professor A Burg. He published four mathematics papers during
his four years as Burg's assistant, his first being A contribution to
the theory of parallels. This assistantship was only a temporary post
and Doppler, rather older than most others, began to seek a permanent
post at the age of 30. In  Seidlerova explains how applications
worked at that time in Austria:-
From 1825 all vacant
professorships at Austrian universities and polytechnics were filled
by public competition. It actually meant admission examination, where
the questions were determined ... The applicants at various schools
of the monarchy had to answer them in written form, which could take
up to twelve hours. Part of the examination was also a short probationary
lecture on an arbitrary topic in front of the appointed commission.
The sealed answers, together with an evaluation of the lecture, were
then sent to the school where the competition had been announced.
The final decisions
were taken by the commission in Vienna but the applicants were only
selected on their teaching ability, any sign of higher levels of knowledge
would be treated as telling against the candidate. Doppler submitted
himself to a number of these competitions, both for school and university
places. He applied to schools in Linz, Salzburg, Gorizia and Ljubljana
and for the chair of higher mathematics at Vienna Polytechnic and on
23 March 1833 for the professorship of arithmetic, algebra, theoretical
geometry and accountancy at the Technical Secondary School in Prague.
While this was going
on Doppler had to earn his living and he spent 18 months as a bookkeeper
at a cotton spinning factory. This was a period of sadness and great
difficulty for Doppler and it is not surprising that he decided to give
up the unequal struggle and emigrate to America. He began to sell his
possessions and visited the American Consul in Munich to make the necessary
arrangements. However, when he was close to making the final decision
he received an offer of the post at the Technical Secondary School in
Prague. It had taken a long time for the process of appointing to reach
its conclusion and Doppler took up his post in March 1835, almost exactly
two years after entering the competition.
Doppler was ambitious
and teaching elementary mathematics at the Technical School was not
greatly to his liking. He tried for a post of professor of higher mathematics
at the Polytechnic in Prague but without success. However, during 1836-38
he was able to teach higher mathematics for four hours a week at the
Polytechnic. This brought in extra money which he certainly needed since
he married in 1836.
Doppler did get
another chance of a post at the Polytechnic, however, and at the end
of 1837 the professorship in practical geometry and elementary mathematics
became vacant. Doppler assumed the duties of the post but things were
not that straightforward. Despite the fact that he was carrying out
the duties, a competition for the post was held on 3 October 1839. Doppler
did not have to take part in the competition but was hurt by the fact
that it was held at all. He was formally appointed to the post in March
Doppler did not
have an easy time teaching at the Polytechnic. Seidlerova writes in
were very stressful. The terms of both oral and written exams had to
be reported in advance to the Land Committee which also nominated the
examination commissioner. For example, in January and February 1843
Doppler had to examine 256 students in 17 days, both in writing and
orally, in arithmetic and algebra. The examinations took a minimum of
six hours daily. The same number of students sat for the examination
in "theoretical geometry" in June and July of the same year
in a twelve day examination. Additionally in July and August it was
necessary to examine 145 students in geodesy in eight days. ... In July
1847 Doppler orally examined 526 students in mathematics and 289 in
By 1844 Doppler's
health, always less than good, failed under the strain. He had to give
up teaching and requested sick leave. He had support from Bolzano who
It is hard to believe
how fruitful a genius Austria has in this man. I have written to ...
many people who can save Doppler for science and not let him die under
the yoke. Unfortunately I fear the worst.
The situation was
made worse by Doppler's students complaining that he was too harsh in
his examining. Doppler was investigated and reprimanded while the students
were allowed to retake their examinations. Doppler considered himself
totally innocent and demanded that the reprimand be withdrawn. Eventually
the reprimand was reluctantly withdrawn by the end of 1844 but Doppler
was not well enough to return to his duties until 1846.
With such a difficult
time in Prague, it is no surprise that Doppler wanted to move and he
was offered the professorship of mathematics, physics and mechanics
at the Academy of Mines and Forests in Banska Stiavnica. Stoll writes
When Doppler left
Prague for Banska Stiavnica, he did not suspect that his stay in this
city would be so short. The stormy year 1848 shook all parts of the
monarchy and revolution broke out in Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Due
to political unrest the situation in Banska Stiavnica became complicated
and Doppler was once again seeking refuge.
He was now a figure
of some importance so a move was now able to be made with less difficulty.
He was appointed to Vienna Polytechnic, then on 17 January 1850 he was
appointed as the first director of the new Institute of Physics at Vienna
University. Doppler had reached the high point of his career.
What qualities had
carried Doppler through the struggles of his early experiences to this
important position? It was not, it seems, his great mathematical abilities,
for despite his career as a mathematician he was always short of the
topmost level when it came to mathematical research. In fact his grasp
of mathematics may have been even less good than this for he wrote an
elementary text Arithmetic and algebra published in Prague in 1843.
Seidlerova, describing this work in  writes:-
were conducted in a very unfortunate way and demonstrated that in the
basic questions of mathematics he groped more than his eminent contemporaries.
this Doppler did have genius within him. It was a genius that Bolzano
saw from the very first. Bolzano reviewed the first paper which Doppler
submitted to the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences in 1837. After recommending
Doppler's paper on applied analysis for publication, Bolzano commented
about Doppler himself. Dated Prague 25 September 1839, the report reads
Mr Doppler has already
demonstrated his very promising abilities to the scientific community
through his numerous published works in mathematics and physics. The
expectations raised by his hitherto published works would multiply when
one enters into personal acquaintance with him. You are not only struck
by how many highly interesting and fruitful ideas, in many areas of
knowledge, that so young a scientist is able to produce, but you also
convince yourself with the greatest pleasure that this exceptional spiritual
power combines with an amiable character, genuine unaffected determination
and with that pure love of science and truth ...
So Bolzano, himself
a great mathematical innovator, could see the genius in Doppler. Not
everyone could see it however. Kulik, who was professor of mathematics
at the Charles University of Prague while Doppler worked at the Polytechnic,
... did not have
much understanding of Doppler's originality or of his intuitive ways
Bolzano moved to
Prague in 1842 and became secretary to the mathematical section of the
Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences. He was then in closer contact with
Doppler and Bolzano wrote in 1844 :-
over several weeks has excited me with his ideas, the one more brilliant
than the other. I must think about them day and night.
However two years
before Bolzano wrote this, Doppler had presented his most famous brilliant
idea to the Royal Bohemian Society. On the 25 May 1842 Doppler presented
the paper On the coloured light of the double stars and certain other
stars of the heavens. The minutes of the meeting reported on Doppler's
Mr Doppler talked
about a wonderful phenomenon of the coloured light of the double stars
and some other stars in the heavens. He sought the explanation of this
striking phenomenon in formulating a new general theory, which included
in itself as an integral part the theory of Bradley.
The paper presented
for the first time the Doppler principle which relates the frequency
of a source to its velocity relative to an observer. Doppler derived
the principle in a few lines treating both light and sound as longitudinal
waves in the ether and matter, respectively. Doppler was incorrect regarding
light being a longitudinal wave. In fact Fresnel had already published
his theory that light was a transverse wave but, although Doppler had
read Fresnel's work, he did not accept it. However the error does not
really affect the result of Doppler's principle. Doppler also was wrong
when he tried to illustrate his theory with an application to the colours
of double stars. Although Doppler was correct in saying that his principle
would change the colours of double stars, depending on which star was
approaching or receding from the Earth, the effect is too small to be
Doppler does, however,
make a remarkable prediction in his paper:-
It is almost to
be accepted with certainty that this will in the not too distant future
offer astronomers a welcome means to determine the movements and distances
of such stars which, because of their unmeasurable distances from us
and the consequent smallness of the parallactic angles, until this moment
hardly presented the hope of such measurements and determinations.
in colours were impossible to observe with the instruments of the time,
the situation with sound was rather different. As early as 1845 experiments
were conducted with musicians on railway trains playing instruments
and other trained musicians writing down the apparent note as the train
approached them and receded from them. In 1846 Doppler published a better
version of his principle where he considered both the motion of the
source and the motion of the observer.
Not everyone of
course was immedately convinced by Doppler's theory. His most vigorous
opponent was Petzval, by this time professor of mathematics at the University
of Vienna. Their dispute was based on a misunderstanding, in some sense
both were correct but they could not see that they were arguing about
No other work by
Doppler came anywhere close in matching the importance of his publications
on the Doppler principle. He did publish on electricity and magnetism,
the variation of magnetic declination with time as well as several publications
on optics and astronomical topics. His mind would continually come up
with new ideas and so he was led to invent many instruments, particularly
optical instruments, and improve existing ones. Most of his ideas are
quite revolutionary, he was certainly a very original thinker, but on
the down side most would just not work in practice. However one can
often see the germ of some important future discovery there, even though
the idea as presented by Doppler is basically incorrect.
Doppler had some
difficulty becoming a member of the Royal Bohemian Society despite very
strong support from Bolzano and his good relations with the Society.
In 1837, when he reviewed the first paper that Doppler submitted to
the Society, Bolzano requested in his report that Doppler be elected
to the Society. This was not acted on but, in the following year, Doppler
was proposed again and not elected in a ballot.
On 28 June 1840
Doppler was eleced an associate member of the Royal Bohemian Society
after a close ballot of 7 for and 5 against. It does appear that after
his 1842 paper he gained more favour for he was elected as an ordinary
member of the Society on 5 November 1843 with 9 votes in his favour
and only one against. In 1847 he was elected deputy secretary of the
Society and became one of the leaders of the Society who showed, according
to Bolzano's words :-
... pure love of
science and truth which rises high above narrowminded party-spirit as
well as conceited inflexibility.
Other honours which
came Doppler's way in 1848 were election to ordinary membership of the
Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna and an honorary doctorate from
the University of Prague.
Doppler's time as
the first Director of the Institute of Physics at Vienna University
was a short one. He was appointed by Imperial Decree on 17 January 1850.
His health continued to deteriorate with severe chest problems and,
in November 1852, he travelled to Venice in the hope that the warmer
climate would bring about some improvement. It was not to be, however,
and by March 1853 it was clear that he was sinking fast. Doppler's wife,
who had given him staunch support throughout their marriage, had remained
in Vienna with their three sons and two daughters awaiting his return
but, on realising that his end was near, she made the journey to Venice
and was with Doppler when he died.