Kristian Olaf Birkeland (13 December 1867 – 15 June 1917) was a Norwegian scientist. He is best remembered as the person who first elucidated the nature of the Aurora borealis. In order to fund his research on the aurorae, he invented the electromagnetic cannon and the Birkeland-Eyde process of fixing nitrogen from the air. Birkeland was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times

Birkeland working with his Terella machine which simulates the Northern Light

Professor Birkeland was a multi-talented scientist and inventor, reaching from outer space down to ballistic weapons, food processing and mathematics.   His ability to cross scientific borders and challenge the establishment gave him advantages and enemies.  The British science society never accepted his theories about the aurora borealis, and his entrepreneur partner in the development of the electric arc plasma generator, Samuel Eyde, interfered with his Nobel prize nominations.

Professor Birkeland was famous for his capability to do experiments, and his giant leaps forward, when was onto something.  From the idea for the nitrogen fixation was conceived in 1903 till the first industrial production plant was established took only two years.

This development was only possible through a combination of Professor Birkenands strongest sides:

  1. He was the leading practical and theoretical authority on high tension switches.
  2. He was the leading astronomer with theories of plasma through his aurora borealis studies.
  3. He had full theoretical and practical knowledge of the effect of  electromagnetic fields on currents and charged particles through the development of the electromagnetic cannon.
  4. He was able to write a patent application based on theories and transfer of experience only.
  5. He was able to build a pilot plant almost overnight to prove his theory.

More about Birkeland at Wikipedia

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