Burger, Herman Carel

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Burger, Herman Carel

(b. Utrecht, Netherlands, 1 June 1893; d. Utrecht, 27 December 1965)

physics, medical physics.

Burger was named for his father, a first engineer with the Dutch navy; his mother was Jeanne Marie Cecile Docen. He received his primary education at the school of the Moravian Brothers, Zeist, the Netherlands, and attended the State High School in Utrecht, from which he graduated in 1911. In 1912 Burger matriculated at the University of Utrecht, where he studied physics and mathematics. He received his Ph.D., cum laude, 31 May 1918. From 1918 until 1920 he was an assistant in theoretical physics in Utrecht, and for the following two years he worked at the physical laboratory of Philips Industries. In 1922 he returned to the University of Utrecht as chief assistant in the physics department, and from 1927 to 1950 he had the title of lecturer. From 1950 until 1963 Burger was professor of medical physics in Utrecht. (In 1926 Burger had been offered a professorship at the University of Delft; he preferred, however, to remain in Utrecht.) Burger was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Nijmegen in 1963, and in 1964 he received the Einthoven Medal from the University of Leiden. He was the first Dutch citizen to deliver the Einthoven lecture.

Burger had great faith in men, and was extremely loyal and helpful to friends and students; he was mild in his judgments when he could see good intentions but very hard when there were none. He had vacillated between physics and mathematics or medicine as a course of study; he chose the former but was delighted when he was able to combine all of them. His precise mind was receptive to all types of information, but he was strongly opposed to every form of superstition and unscientific reporting (see his reports on the divining rod, 1930 and 1960).

Burger’s work, aside from his teaching, can be divided into two parts: that before and that after World War II. Before the war the emphasis in Burger’s work was on intensity measurements and spectral analysis. In connection with the atomic theory of Bohr and Rutherford, the determination of the intensity of spectral lines was an important factor in further theoretical development. In Utrecht in the 1920’s this kind of experimentation flourished as the result of the development of measuring apparatus: Moll and Burger refined apparatus for detecting radiation— vacuum thermoelements, the bolometer, and the galvanometer; Burger and Van Cittert experimented with high-resolution apparatus and studied the influence of the apparatus on the spectral line; and Ornstein and Burger worked with intensity measurements themselves. During this period Burger also worked on liquid crystals.

Burger’s younger brother, Eduard, had been a physician for a number of years, and the scientific contact between them was very close. In 1938 Burger’s brother made a study on vectorcardiography that led Burger to the second period of his lifework, medical physics. His interest was primarily in electrocardiography, especially vectorcardiography. He also studied heart sounds, ballistocardiography, pumping rate of the heart per minute, stenosis, and pulse-wave reproduction. Besides conducting these studies, for many years Burger taught elementary physics to medical, veterinary, and dental students, covering the application of physics to medicine. In later years his teaching was extended to medical students who were more advanced in their studies.

Under Burger’s leadership the Foundation for Biophysics flourished in the postwar years because he established various working groups. He was also successful in bringing together professors and staff members interested in medical physics by organizing colloquia.


Burger’s works include Oplossen en Groeien van Kristallen, his ph.D dissertation (Utrecht, 1918); Het Onderwijs in de Natuurkunde aan Studenten in de Geneeskunde (Utrecht, 1923); Leerboek der Natuurkunde, 3 vols. (Groningen, 1920–1936), written with W. J. H. Moll; Voorlopige Beschrijvingen van een vijftigtal natuurkundige Leerlingenproeven (Groningen, 1929), written with W. Reindersma et al.; Natuurkundige proeven voor Leerlingen (Groningen, 1934–1937), written with W. Reindersma et al.; Objektive Spektralphotometrie (Brunswick, 1932), written with W. H. J. Moll and L. S. Ornstein; and Heart and Vector (1969), ed. by H. W. Julius, Jr. A survery of Burger’s work from 1908 to 1933 appears in a work dedicated to Ornstein by his colleagues and pupils (Utrecht, 1933). This work contains approximately 50 titles of articles written by Burger, alone or with others, such as “Beziehung zwischen inneren Quantenzahlen und Intensitäten von Mehrfachlinien”, in Zeitschrift für Physik, 23 (1924), 258–266, written with H.B. Dorgelo, also in the Ornstein survey, p. 98; Leerboek der Natuurkunde, R. Kronig, ed. (1947; 6th ed., 1962), ch. 12; trans. as Textbook of Physics (1954; 2nd ed., 1959), ch. 12; Medische Physica (Paris, 1949), written with G.C.E. Burger; Grensgebied (Amsterdam, 1952); “Het begrip Arbeid in Natuurkunde, Fysiologie, en Geneeskunde,” Einthoven lecture, 1964, in Leidse Voordrachten, 42 . Burger also published a great many articles in scientific journals.

J. G. Van Cittert-Eymers