Barkhausen, Heinrich Georg

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Barkhausen, Heinrich Georg

(b. Bremen, Germany, 2 December 1881; d. Dresden, Germany, 20 February 1956)

electronic engineering.

The son of a district judge, Barkhausen attended the Gymnasium in Bremen and then spent half a year as an engineering trainee in a railway maintenance depot before entering engineering college at Bremen. He soon turned to physics and attended the universities of Munich, Berlin, and Göttingen; at Göttingen he became an assistant in the Institute of Applied Electricity and received the doctorate in 1907 with the dissertation “The Problem of the Generation of Oscillations.” His work attracted a good deal of attention in technical circles and led to his employment as a research worker in the Siemens & Halske laboratories in Berlin.

In 1911 the Technische Hochschule in Dresden created the first professorship anywhere in the communications branch of electrical engineering, and Barkhausen was appointed to it. From this important position, Barkhausen greatly influenced the development of the new field both scientifically and pedagogically. He made early, basic contributions to the theories of nonlinear switching elements and of spontaneous oscillation, and he formulated the still-used electron-tube coefficients and the equations relating them. Barkhausen wrote a four-volume text on electron tubes and their technological applications that remianed the standard work for many years. He also contributed to acoustics and to magnetism. In acoustics, the method of subjective measurement of loudness and the use of the phon as a unit of loudness were first proposed by Barkhausen. In magnetism, he discovered by acoustical methods the discontinuities that occur as a ferromagnetic material is magnetized; this observation, known as the Barkhausen effect, played a part in the further elucidation of the discrete nature of magnetism by the domain theory.

Among engineers he is best known for the Barkhausen-Kurz oscillator (developed in 1920 with his collaborator Karl Kurz), an electron tube capable of continuous-wave oscillation at ultrahigh frequencies, which was the forerunner of a whole series of microwave tubes and contributed to the understanding of their underlying principle, velocity modulation.

Barkhausen’s Institute of High-Frequency and Electron-Tube Technology in Dresden, which had survived most of World War II unscathed, was destroyed by bombing on 13 February 1945. After the war, Barkhausen returned from West Germany to his beloved Dresden and participated in the reconstruction of the institute, where he remained until his death. The buildings housing the institute are named the Barkhausenbau in his honor.

Barkhausen was renowned throughout the world. He received many honors in Germany and abroad, especially from Japan and the United States; he was awarded the Morris Liebmann Memorial Prize for 1933 by the Institute of Radio Engineers, of which he was vice-president in 1935. His scholarly, teaching, and research careers were all exceedingly fruitful. Dresden’s excellence as a center of electronics research was in large measure due to Barkhausen; the influence he exercised through his works and his students came to be felt all over the world.


A list of Barkhausen’s major publications appears in Poggendorff, Biographisch-literarisches Handwörterbuch, vols.V, VI, and VII.

An obituary by his successor in the Dresden institute, Hans Frühauf, appears in Jahrbuch der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1956), pp.513–515; a more elaborate eulogy by Frühauf is in Hochfrequenztechnik und Elektroakustik, 65 (1957), 109–112.

Charles SÜsskind