Lorentz, Hendrik Antoon (1853–1928)

Henrik Lorentz

Hendrik Lorentz was a Dutch physicist and professor at Leiden, whose studies of the influence of magnetism on radiation won him, and his pupil Pieter Zeeman, the 1902 Nobel Prize in Physics. Basing his work on Maxwell's equations, Lorentz explained the reflection and refraction of light; and proposed his electron theory, that light occurred through motion of electrons in a stationary electromagnetic ether. Thus the wavelength should change under the influence of a powerful magnetic field; and this was experimentally shown by Zeeman (1896). See also Zeeman effect.


But the theory was inconsistent with the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment, and so Lorentz introduced the idea of 'local time,' that the rate of passage of time differed from place to place; and, incorporating this with the proposal of George Fitzgerald that the length of a moving body decreases in the direction of motion (the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction, or Lorentz contraction), he derived the Lorentz transformation, a mathematical statement which describes the changes in length, time, and mass of a moving body. His work, with that of Fitzgerald, influenced the development of Einstein's special theory of relativity.