by Steve Graham • August 14, 2000
Vilhelm Bjerknes is considered by many to be one of the founders of modern meteorology and weather forecasting. Born on March 14, 1862, in the Norwegian town of Christiania, Bjerknes was destined for a career in science. As a young boy, Bjerknes assisted his father, Carl Bjerknes (a professor of mathematics at the University of Christiania), in carrying out experiments to verify the theoretical predictions that resulted from his father's hydrodynamic research. He continued this collaboration during his undergraduate studies at the University of Kristiania in 1880 (the city was renamed Kristiania in 1877).
After studying mathematics and physics, Bjerknes received his Master's Degree from Kristiania in 1888. During this time, he decided to cut all collaborative ties with his father, as he showed an increasing tendency toward professional isolation and a fear of publishing the results of his research. Young Vilhelm believed that continuing work with his father would be detrimental to his career, a tough decision for a son who was devoted to his father.
Soon after graduation, Bjerknes was awarded a state scholarship that enabled him to continue his studies abroad. Arriving in Paris in 1889, he attended lectures on electrodynamics given by Jules Henri Poincare. Then, in 1890, he moved to Bonn, Germany, and became an assistant to, and eventually a scientific collaborator with, the German physicist Heinrich Hertz. Together, Hertz and Bjerknes conducted a comprehensive study of electrical resonance (an effect in which the resistance to the flow of an electrical current becomes very small over a narrow frequency range) that was influential in the development of radio. In 1892, Bjerknes returned to Norway and completed his doctoral thesis on the work that he did in Bonn.
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