Richard Adolf Zsigmondy

Richard Adolf Zsigmondy
Born (1865-04-01)1 April 1865
Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Died 23 September 1929(1929-09-23) (aged 64)
Göttingen, Germany
Nationality Austria
Fields Chemistry
Institutions University of Vienna
Technical University of Vienna
University of Munich
University of Graz
University of Göttingen
Alma mater Technical University of Vienna
University of Munich
Doctoral advisor Wilhelm von Miller
Influenced August Kundt
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1925)

Richard Adolf Zsigmondy (1 April 1865 – 23 September 1929) was an Austrian-Hungarian chemist. He was known for his research in colloids, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1925. The crater Zsigmondy on the Moon is named in his honour.


Early years

Zsigmondy was born in Vienna, Austrian Empire, to Hungarian parents Irma Szakmáry, a poet born in Martonvásár, and Adolf Zsigmondy Sr., a scientist from Bratislava who invented several surgical instruments for use in dentistry. Zsigmondy family members were Lutherans. They originated from Johannes (hung. János) Sigmondi (1686–1746, Bártfa, Kingdom of Hungary) and included teachers, priests and Hungarian freedom-fighters. Richard was raised by his mother after his father's early death in 1880, and received a comprehensive education. He enjoyed hobbies such as climbing and mountaineering with his siblings. His elder brothers, Otto (a dentist) and Emil (a physician), were well-known mountain climbers; his younger brother, Karl Zsigmondy, became a notable mathematician in Vienna. In high school Richard developed an interest in natural science, especially in chemistry and physics, and experimented in his home laboratory.

He began his academic career at the University of Vienna Medical Faculty, but soon moved to the Technical University of Vienna, and later to the University of Munich, to study chemistry under Wilhelm von Miller (1848–1899). In Munich he conducted research on indene and received his PhD in 1889.[1]


Zsigmondy left organic chemistry to join the physics group of August Kundt at the University of Berlin, and completed his habilitation at the University of Graz in 1893. Because of his knowledge about glass and its colouring, in 1897 the Schott Glass factory offered him a job which he accepted. He invented the Jenaer Milchglas and conducted some research on the red Ruby glass.

Zsigmondy left Schott Glass in 1900, but remained in Jena as private lecturer to conduct his research. Together with the optical instrument manufacturer Zeiss, he developed the slit ultramicroscope. His scientific career continued in 1908 at the University of Göttingen, where he stayed for the rest of his professional career as professor of inorganic chemistry. In 1925, Zsigmondy received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on colloids and the methods he used, such as the ultramicroscope.

Before Zsigmondy finished his PhD thesis in organic chemistry, he published research on colouring glass with silver salts and dissolved silver particles, which he recovered by dissolving the glass in hydrofluoric acid.

Vintage cranberry glass bowl

During his stay in Graz, Zsigmondy accomplished his most notable research work, on the chemistry of colloids. The exact mechanism which yields the red colour of the Cranberry or Ruby glass was a result of his studies of colloids.[2] In later years he worked on gold hydrosols and used them to characterize protein solutions. While in Jena he developed the slit ultramicroscope together with Henry Siedentopf. After moving to Göttingen, Zsigmondy improved his optical equipment for the observation of finest nanoparticles suspended in liquid solution. As a result, he introduced the immersion ultramicroscope in 1912.[3]

Private life

Göttingen, grave Zsigmondy's

In 1903 Zsigmondy married Laura Luise Müller, with whom he had two daughters, Annemarie and Käthe. He died a few years after retirement in 1929 in Göttingen, Germany.

He was a cousin of the architect Frigyes Schulek, whose mother was Auguszta Zsigmondy. He is also related to the violinist Dénes Zsigmondy.


Richard Zsigmondy,

Vienna (A) 1862–Göttingen (D) 1929

scientist, Nobel Prize Winner in chemistry 1925
Adolf Zsigmondy
Pressburg/ Pozsony, (HUN) 1816–
Vienna (A) 1880
Sámuel Zsigmondy
Pilis, (HUN) 1788–
1833 Pressburg/ Pozsony (HUN)
G. Zsigmondy
Körmöcbánya (HUN) 1748-Pilis (HUN) 1799)
J. Zsigmondy
Bártfa (HUN) ca 1700
-Körmöcbánya(HUN) 1765)
Zsuzsanna Kossovits
Besztercebánya (HUN) ?
-Lónyabánya (HUN) 1790)
Judit Polereczky
Alberti (Now Albertirsa) (HUN) 1756–
1833 Pressburg/Pozsony (HUN)
F. Fábry

1793 Pressburg/ Pozsony (HUN)–
1868 Pressburg/Pozsony (HUN)
grandmother's father:
István Fábry
Hrussó (HUN) 1751 – Pressburg/ Pozsony (HUN) 1817
grandmother's mother:
Terézia Bayer
Irma von Szakmáry
Martonvásár (HUN) 1835
Vienna 1900
Mothers father:
N.N. von Szakmáry
Mother's grandfather :
N.N. von Szakmáry

N.N. :


  1. Miller, W. V.; Rohde, G. (1889). "Zur Synthese von Indenderivaten". Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft. 22 (2): 1881–1886. doi:10.1002/cber.18890220227.
  2. Zsigmondy, R. (1898). "Ueber wässrige Lösungen metallischen Goldes". Justus Liebig's Annalen der Chemie. 301 (1): 29–54. doi:10.1002/jlac.18983010104.
  3. Mappes, T. (2012). "The Invention of Immersion Ultramicroscopy in 1912—The Birth of Nanotechnology?". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 51 (45): 11208–11212. doi:10.1002/anie.201204688.
  4. Czeizel, Endre (1992) Családfa Kossuth Könyvkiadó. Budapest, Kossuth. ISBN 963-09-3569-4

Further reading

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