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Frits Zernike

Frits ZernikeBorn: 16-Jul-1888
Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died: 10-Mar-1966
Location of death: Amersfoort, Netherlands
Cause of death: Illness

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist, Inventor

Nationality: Netherlands
Executive summary: Phase-contrast microscope

Dutch mathematician and physicist Frits Zernike (sometimes cited as Frederik Zernike) discovered the phase-contrast phenomenon in 1930, while investigating certain optical flaws in diffraction gratings caused by the imperfect spacing of engraved lines. Noting that he was able to use this principle to distinguish and fine-tune light rays as they passed through transparent materials, he designed the first phase-contrast microscope, introduced in 1938, in which light is focused at an angle, enhancing the visual contrast of internal cell structure without earlier microscopes' requirement of staining (and killing) the cells. Though far superior to other microscopes of his era, his invention received little attention until World War II, when it was seized and duplicated by the Nazis.

Both his parents were mathematics teachers, and in college he studied under Jacobus C. Kapteyn. In 1914, with Leonard Salomon Ornstein (1880-1941), he devised the Ornstein–Zernike equation, a basis for the integral equation theory of equilibrium fluids. He also studied correlation coefficients for molecules in liquids, and order-disorder theory. He was a great uncle of Gerardus 't Hooft, 1999 Nobel laureate in Physics. His sister Anna Zernike (1887-1972) was married to the Dutch painter Jan Mankes (1889-1920), and was the first woman ordained in the Dutch Mennonite church.

Father: Carl Frederick August Zernike (mathematics teacher, b. 1859, d. 1922)
Mother: Antje Dieperink (mathematics teacher, b. 1859, m. 5-Aug-1886, d. 1932)
Sister: Anna Mankes-Zernike (Christian minister, b. 30-Apr-1887, d. 6-Mar-1972)
Sister: Lise Zernike van Kampen (b. 23-Mar-1890, d. 15-Mar-1989)
Sister: Elisabeth Zernike (poet, b. 8-Jul-1891, 12-Mar-1982)
Sister: Nellij Zernike de Jong (b. 16-Jun-1894, d. 17-Oct-1985)
Brother: Johannes Zernike (chemist, b. 28-Aug-1901, d. 25-Jan-1988)
Wife: Theodora Wilhelmina van Bommel van Vloten ("Dora", m. 28-Jan-1930, d. 16-Feb-1945, two children)
Daughter: N. N. Zernike
Son: Frits Zernike, Jr. (physicist)
Wife: Lena Koperberg-Baanders (m. 12-Feb-1954)

    University: BS Chemistry, University of Amsterdam (1912)
    University: PhD Physics, University of Amsterdam (1915)
    Scholar: Physics, Groningen University (1913-15)
    Lecturer: Mathematical Physics, Groningen University (1915-20)
    Professor: Theoretical Physics, Groningen University (1920-58)

    Rumford Medal 1952
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1953
    Optical Society of America Foreign Member
    Royal Microscopical Society
    Dutch Ancestry
    Lunar Crater Zernike (18.4° N, 168.2° E, 48 km. diameter)


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