Skip to main content
Select Source:

Goldschmidt, Victor

Goldschmidt, Victor

(b. Mainz, Germany, 10 February 1853; d Salzburg, Austria, 8 May 1933)

crystallography, harmonics.

Born to a well-to-do family, Goldschmidt attended the Gymnasium in Mainz. He then entered the Freiberg Bergakademie and, after graduating, stayed on as an instructor in metallurgy, assaying, and blowpipe analysis under H. T. Richter (1875–1878). For graduate and research work he went to the universities of Munich, Prague, and Heidelberg; at the latter he obtained his Ph.D. under K. H. F. Rosenbusch in 1880, with a dissertation entitled “Ueber Verwendbarkeit einer Kaliumquecksilberjodidlösung bei mineralogischen und petrographischen Untersuchungen”; it concerned the determination of the specific gravity of minerals, a topic to which he returned in later papers.

From 1882 to 1887 Goldschmidt was at the University of Vienna; and these years, especially the work with Aristedes Brezina, appear to have determined his life work. From Vienna he returned to Heidelberg, where in February 1888 he submitted” Ueber Projection und graphische Kristallberechnung” as a Habilitationsschrift for a post in Rosenbusch’s institute.

Also in 1888 Goldschmidt married Leontine von Portheim and settled in Heidelberg. His wife brought as a dowry a substantial part of the wealth which enabled him to work with little help from the university; she was also a very understanding companion who provided a homelike atmosphere for many of his co-workers and students. Except for a long journey to the Far East in 1894–1895 he spent almost all of his time in Heidelberg. In 1893 Goldschmidt was named associate professor, and somewhat later he became an honorary full professor. In 1916 he and his wife established the Eduard und Josefine von Portheim Stiftung, of which the Victor-Goldschmidt-Institut für Kristallforschung was a part.

Together with E. S. Fyodorov in St. Petersburg and Paul von Groth in Munich, Goldschmidt was the founder of modern crystallography. Until then that science’s methods and mode of thought adhered rigidly to a purely geometric vision of crystals, with little or no interest in the physicochemical meaning of the wealth of geometric observations. The work of these three men opened the way and created the methods for Max von Laue’s discovery of X-ray diffraction and for the discovery of the principles of crystal chemistry by Aleksandr Fersman, Victor Moritz, Goldschmidt, and Paul Niggli.

Goldschmidt’s contribution centered mainly on a complete indexing and recording of mineral crystal forms, the final aim being to link these external variations of form to the physicochemical variations of composition and of physicochemical factors present during formation. He realized the vastness of the task and was pleased that he accomplished the mapping of most of the crystal forms available during his lifetime. The second sine qua non was his great skill in teaching and the enthusiasm he created in his students. Many students from various countries worked with him, including Fersman, William Nicol, Charles Palache, Friedrich Kolbeck, M. A. Peacock, and Ludwig Milch.

Goldschmidt’s outstanding works form a sort of trilogy: Index der Kristallformen der Mineralien (1886–1891), Kristallographische Winkeltabellen (1897), and Atlas der Kristallformen (1913–1923). These works are a foundation of crystallography and are essential to much crystallographic work even today. They and the more than 100 papers on individual crystal forms or groups required the improvement of traditional methods, which were entirely inadequate, and the creation of new ones. Consequently, part of Goldschmidt’s contribution to crystallography consisted of improvement of existing instruments and invention of new ones. The most important was the construction of the two-circle goniometer. His work required a great number of crystal models and much cutting and oriented polishing. In this work he was assisted by the skilled mechanic Stoe. Goldschmidt wrote many instruction booklets on the new methods and instruments. For about forty years—until he was past seventy-five—he taught courses in measurement and calculation of crystals, determinative mineralogy, and blowpipe analysis.

Other methods improved or initiated by Goldschmidt are the Goldschmidt symbols, the gnomonic projection, use of the position angles Φ and ρ (borrowed from astronomy) to characterize crystal forms, the recognition of the importance of zones, and the mathematical periodicity of zone symbols from 0 to ∞ to a maximum number in the Normalreihe III:

Goldschmidt defined the task of crystallography in the first volume of the Index (1886) and made the definition the program for his own work in crystallography: “The main purpose of crystallography is to explore the molecular structures of solid substances and to determine the intensity of molecular forces and their manner of operation.” Later in the Index he wrote: “Every surface is crystallographically possible, the perpendicular is the direction of molecular attraction.” Thus, Goldschmidt hoped to gain insight into the atomic or molecular bond relations within the lattice, through the crystal form as the product of bond strength and bond direction. For his time this was most certainly an ingenious approach. As soon as X rays were applied to bond relations, the results confirmed most of Goldschmidt’s findings.

But Goldschmidt was not satisfied with the geometric approach alone. He wanted to test the results by trying out the forces opposed to those active in crystal growth: he etched and dissolved crystals and compared the results. The statistical and geometric part of this work was excellent proof for his goniometrical work. But when attempting to interpret the resulting micromorphology dynamically, he made the mistake of applying analogies from erosion on the earth’s surface. This revealed a weakness in his thinking: a rock is an aggregate and is subject to statistical laws different from those of the crystal lattice. Interest in intergrowth and related problems had not yet arisen. If it had—and if modern knowledge of phases and modern statistics had been available—an association of Goldschmidt and Rosenbusch would have been immensely fruitful. But such knowledge was not available; and, in addition, these men had very different personalities which would not allow a close friendship and cooperation.

Goldschmidt’s work on “crystal forms and on the forces active in the dissolution of crystals led him to extensive investigations of twinning, surface symmetries, accessories and vicinals, oblique surfaces, and multiple twinning; and the foundations were laid for the understanding of epitaxial overgrowth as a phenomenon related to, unmixing or exsolution.

Among the monographs on individual crystal forms, the one on diamond written with Fersman is worthy of special mention. Fersman, who studied for almost two years with Goldschmidt, wrote in his obituary of the latter: “The three works, Index, Winkeltabellen, and Atlas, are henceforth basic materials for the study of crystals. Without them it is impossible to do crystallographic work. They translate the work of a complete century into a new language... the language of new, great ideas in... contemporary crystal chemistry....”

Goldschmidt could not split himself into a scientific and a general personality; both parts of his life had to be a unit originating from the same source. Therefore his crystallographic thought—at least its pattern—extended, for him, without a break into the other domains of his personality: the aesthetic, the ethical, and perhaps the religious. Consequently he found excellent correspondence of the harmonic series of crystals with that in music, in fine arts, and with traits of human life in general. Attempts at such integrations were Goldschmidt’s favorite philosophic themes and formed the subjects of some of his articles and books: Ueber Harmonie und Complication (1901), “Ueber harmonische Analyse von Musikstücken” (Annalen der Naturphilosophie, 3 [1904]), “Ueber Harmonie in Weltraum” (ibid., 5 ), “Beiträge zur Harmonielehre” (ibid., 13 [1917]), and “Materialien zur Musiklehre” (Heidelberger Akten der von-Portheim-Stiftung, nos. 5, 8, 9, 11, 14, 15 [1923–1925]). These works showed that for Goldschmidt harmonic properties and symmetries occurred in all domains of human endeavor as a sort of pantheistic or mystic substratum. In the terms of his contemporary, C. G. Jung, these harmonic series and their ascending and descending differentiations (“complications”) were archetypal properties of life.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Himmel’s bibliography (see below) lists 180 articles or books, but this figure does not include numerous smaller articles and reviews. Goldschmidt’s major works are Index der Kristallformen der Mineralien, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1886–1891); Ueber Projektion und graphische Kristallberechnung (Berlin, 1887); Kristallographische Winkeltabellen (Berlin, 1897); Ueber Harmonie und Complication (Berlin, 1901); Der Diamant, eine Studie (Heidelberg, 1911), written with A. Fersman; Atlas der Kristallformen, 9 vols. (Heidelberg, 1913–1923); and Farben in der Kunst (Heidelberg, 1919). In addition, Goldschmidt was founder of Beiträge zur Krystallographie und Mineralogie, of which he was editor from 1914 to 1926, and of the Heidelberger Akten der von-Portheim-Stiftung (1922).

II. Seconoary Literature. See A. E. Fersman, “Victor Goldschmidt (10. February 1853 bis 8. Mai 1933),” in Fortschritte der Mineralogie, 37 , no. 2 (1959), 207–212, originally in Reports of the Mineralogical Society of the USSR, 87 , no. 6 (1958), 677; F. Herrmann, “Victor Goldschmidt,” in Neue deuische Biographic, v ol. VI (1964); Hans Himmel, “Victor Goldschmidt zum Gedächtnis,” in Zentralblatt für Mineralogie, Geologie und Palüontologie, sec. A (1933), 391–398; L. Milch, “Zum 75. Geburtstage von Victor Goldschmidt,” in Festschrift zum 75. Geburtstage von semen Schülern und Freunden gewidmet (Heidelberg, 1928); and P. Ramdohr, “Zum 100. Geburtstag von Victor Goldschmidt,” in Ruperto-Carola, 5 , nos. 9-10 (1953), 160–161.

G. C. Amstutz

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Goldschmidt, Victor." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Goldschmidt, Victor." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/goldschmidt-victor

"Goldschmidt, Victor." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved September 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/goldschmidt-victor

Goldschmidt, Victor (1888-1947)

Goldschmidt, Victor (1888-1947)

Norwegian geochemist

Victor Goldschmidt, helped lay the foundations for the field of crystal chemistry . He was a mineralogist, petrologist, and geochemist who devoted the bulk of his research to the study of the composition of the earth. During his many years as a professor and director of a mineralogical institute in Norway, he also investigated solutions to practical geochemical problems at the request of the Norwegian government.

Victor Moritz Goldschmidt was born on January 27, 1888, in Zürich, Switzerland, to Heinrich Jacob Goldschmidt, a distinguished professor of physical chemistry, and Amelie Kohne. His family left Switzerland in 1900 and moved to Norway, where his father took a post as professor of physical chemists at the University of Christiania (now Oslo). Goldschmidt's family obtained Norwegian citizenship in 1905, the same year he entered the university to study chemistry, geology , and mineralogy . There he studied under the noted geologist and petrologist Waldemar Brogger, becoming a lecturer in mineralogy and crystallography at the university in 1909.

Goldschmidt obtained his Ph.D. in 1911. His doctoral dissertation on contact metamorphic rocks, which was based on rock samples from southern Norway, is considered a classic in the field of geochemistry . It served as the starting point for an investigation of the chemical elements that Goldschmidt pursued for three decades. In 1914, he became a full professor and director of the University of Christiana's mineralogical institute. In 1917, the Norwegian government asked Goldschmidt to conduct an investigation of the country's mineral resources, as it needed alternatives to chemicals that had been imported prior to World War I and were now in short supply. The government appointed him Chair of the Government Commission for Raw Materials and head of the Raw Materials Laboratory.

This led Goldschmidt into a new area of researchthe study of the proportions of chemical elements in the earth's crust . His work was facilitated by the newly developed science of x-ray crystallography, which allowed Goldschmidt and his colleagues to determine the crystal structures of 200 compounds made up of 75 elements. He also developed the first tables of atomic and ionic radii for many of the elements, and showed how the hardness of crystals is based on their structures, ionic charges, and the proximity of their atomic particles.

In 1929, Goldschmidt moved to Gottingen, Germany, to assume the position of full professor at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and director of its mineralogical institute. As part of his investigation of the apportionment of elements outside the earth and its atmosphere, he began studying meteorites to ascertain the amounts of elements they contained. He researched numerous substances, including germanium, gallium, scandium, beryllium, selenium, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and zinc, using materials from both the earth and meteorites to devise a model of Earth. In this model, elements were distributed in different parts of Earth based on their charges and sizes. Goldschmidt stayed at Gottingen until 1935, when Nazi anti-Semitism made it impossible for him to continue his work. Returning to Oslo, he resumed work at the university there and assembled data he had collected at Gottingen on the distribution of chemical elements in Earth and in the cosmos. He also began studying ways to use Norwegian olivine rock for use in industry.

When World War II began, Goldschmidt had confrontations with the Nazis that resulted in his imprisonment on several occasions. He narrowly escaped internment in a concentration camp in 1943 when, after the Nazis arrested him, he was rescued by the Norwegian underground. They managed to secretly get him onto a boat to Sweden, where fellow scientists arranged for a flight to Scotland.

In Scotland, Goldschmidt worked at the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research in Aberdeen. Later during the war, he worked as a consultant to the Rothamsted Agricultural Experiment Station in England. As reported in Chemists, Goldschmidt carried with him a cyanide suicide pill for use in the event the Nazis invaded England. When a colleague asked him for one, he responded, "Cyanide is for chemists; you, being a professor of mechanical engineering, will have to use the rope."

After the war, Goldschmidt returned to Oslo and his job as professor and director of the geological museum. There he worked on a newly equipped raw materials laboratory supplied by the Norwegian Department of Commerce. He continued his work until his death on March 20, 1947.

Goldschmidt was a member of the Royal Society and the Geological Society of London, the latter of which awarded him the Wollaston Medal in 1944. He was also an honorary member of the British Mineralogical Society, the Geological Society of Edinburgh, and the Chemical Society of London. He wrote over 200 papers as well as a treatise, Geochemistry, which was published posthumously in 1954.

See also Mineralogy

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Goldschmidt, Victor (1888-1947)." World of Earth Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Goldschmidt, Victor (1888-1947)." World of Earth Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/goldschmidt-victor-1888-1947

"Goldschmidt, Victor (1888-1947)." World of Earth Science. . Retrieved September 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/goldschmidt-victor-1888-1947