Mayer, Julius Robert von (1814–1878)
German physician and physicist who contributed to the formulation of the
law of conservation of energy (see conservation
of mass and energy). Mayer was born at Heilbronn and studied medicine
at Tübingen, Munich, and Paris, began life as a ship's surgeon, and
settled in his native town to practice his profession in 1841. While at
Batavia in 1840 his attention was drawn to the studies he thereafter pursued
in his leisure time. In 1842 he published in Liebig's Annalen a
preliminary statement of the mechanical theory of heat,
in which he clearly determined the numerical relation between heat and work.
Three years later he restated his views, and also theorized on a meteoric
origin of the Sun's heat. Contemporaneously, the mechanical theory of heat
was worked out independently by James Joule
in England. Lack of recognition of his priority in the matters of the mechanical
equivalent of heat and the law of conservation of energy led Mayer to attempt
suicide and he was committed to an asylum.