October 9, 1873 – May 11, 1916
Karl Schwarzschild was a German physicist. He is also the father of astrophysicist Martin Schwarzschild.
He is best known for providing the first exact solution to the Einstein field equations of general relativity, for the limited case of a single spherical non-rotating mass, which he accomplished in 1915, the same year that Einstein first introduced general relativity. The Schwarzschild solution, which makes use of Schwarzschild coordinates and the Schwarzschild metric, leads to the well-known Schwarzschild radius, which is the size of the event horizon of a non-rotating black hole.
Schwarzschild was born in Frankfurt am Main. He was something of a child prodigy, having a paper on celestial mechanics published when he was only sixteen. He studied at Strasbourg and Munich, obtaining his doctorate in 1896 for a work on Jules Henri Poincaré's theories.
From 1897, he worked as assistant at the Kuffner observatory in Vienna. From 1901 until 1909 he was a professor at the prestigious institute at Göttingen, where he had the opportunity to work with some significant figures including David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. Schwarzschild became the director of the observatory in Göttingen. He moved to a post at the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam in 1909.
From 1912, Schwarzschild was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
While serving on the front in Russia in 1915, he began to suffer from a rare and painful skin disease called pemphigus. Nevertheless, he managed to write three outstanding papers, two on relativity theory and one on quantum theory. His papers on relativity produced the first exact solutions to the Einstein field equations, and a minor modification of these results gives the well-known solution that now bears his name: the Schwarzschild metric.
Thousands of dissertations, articles, and books have since been devoted to the study of Schwarzschild's solutions to the Einstein field equations. However, although Schwarzschild's best known work lies in the area of general relativity, his research interests were extremely broad, including work in celestial mechanics, observational stellar photometry, quantum mechanics, instrumental astronomy, stellar structure, stellar statistics, Halley's comet, and spectroscopy.
Some of his particular achievements include measurements of variable stars, using photography, and the improvement of optical systems, through the perturbative investigation of geometrical aberrations.
The Lunar crater Schwarzschild, the Karl Schwarzschild Medal, the Karl Schwarzschild Observatory and more are named in his honor.