Did you know that Joseph von Fraunhofer was born today in 1787? He was a glass maker and physicist. He started gaining glassmaking experience when he was just 11 years old. Fraunhofer became known through the world for producing extremely high-quality optical glass that was used to make scientific equipment such as telescopes. While experimenting with light spectrums, Fraunhofer noticed patterns of dark lines. He discovered that these absorption patterns were associated with different elements and invented the spectroscope to measure the properties of light and matter. One of the ways scientists use spectroscopy, is determining what elements distant stars are made of. They call the patterns of dark absorption lines “Fraunhofer Lines”.
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Joseph von Fraunhofer was orphaned when he was just 11 years old. He was apprenticed to an exacting and harsh glassmaker. When Joseph von Fraunhofer was 14, he was buried under the rubble and debris after the workshop he was working in collapsed. Then Prince-Elector Maximilian was involved in the rescue efforts and became an influence in Joseph von Fraunhofer’s life. He ensured that Joseph von Fraunhofer had time to study and was given more books to expand his education.
Another benefactor, Joseph Utzschneider, was present at the rescue efforts when the glass workshop collapsed. He ensured that Joseph von Fraunhofer continued his education and received practical training as well. When Joseph von Fraunhofer was about 19, Joseph Utzschneider introduced and established Joseph von Fraunhofer in the Benedikbeuern, a monastery devoted to glass making.
Joseph von Fraunhofer’s recipes for glass, processes, and specially designed equipment for glassmaking brought Bavaria to the forefront of optical glassmaking in the world.
Unfortunately, Joseph von Fraunhofer’s expertise as a glassmaker lead to his early death. At the time, glassmakers were exposed to and poisoned by heavy metal vapors. Joseph von Fraunhofer died at the age of 39.
Joseph von Fraunhofer discovered the 574 absorption lines associated with solar light.
Joseph von Fraunhofer plotted the spectral lines from many sources of light and found that the pattern for specific elements was consistent, regardless of the source (e.g solar light, combusting gas, heated metal, etc…)