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Walther Bauersfeld

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Professor Walther Bauersfeld (1879-1959)


1959 Obituary [1]

Professor Walther Bauersfeld, who died on October 28 in Heidenheim a.d. Brenz, was one of the foremost German scientists and technologists.

Born in Berlin on January 23, 1879, he received his technical education at the Technical University of Berlin-Charlottenburg, and subsequently remained there for several years as assistant of Professor E. Reichel who held the chair of mechanical engineering and water turbines.

On August 1, 1905, Bauersfeld joined the firm of Carl Zeiss, Jena, as design engineer and became a member of the board in 1908.

From 1927 until 1945, Professor Dr. Bauersfeld occupied a chair for special fields of technical physics at Jena University; after 1945, he taught precision mechanics at the Technical University of Stuttgart. His chief contributions, however, consist of his many inventions - his name is found on over 120 patents - and in his achievements as an industrialist.

Of his scientific and design work, some of the most outstanding examples may be mentioned here. He was the inventor of the auxiliary lens system for the stereo-planigraph; in kinematography he developed means for optical image correction. His paper "The foundation of the calculation of high-speed gyroscopes" formed the basis of the further development of Kaplan turbines. A method for producing high-precision circular scales has found an important application to theodolites.

Other mechanical inventions were in connection with gearing, and with highly accurate roller bearings. An important aid to surgeons is the "Pantophot" theatre lamp which does not cast any shadows. His epidiascope "Belshazzar" permits the projection of words written on a small surface and so avoids the necessity for lecturers having to write on large blackboards. Especially numerous were his improvements and developments of the microscope; one recalls the ingenious re-arrangement of the layout of the instrument, incorporating a fixed stage and an adjustable tube.

An invention which has become very widely known among the general public was the projection planetarium. A request had been made in 1913 by the German Museum in Munich, an institution corresponding to the Science Museum in South Kensington, for such an equipment which, following traditional ideas, was to represent the fixed stars on the inside of a large sphere, and the planetary systems by means of mechanically moved illuminated bodies. An arrangement somewhat along these lines was eventually supplied by Zeiss to the Museum, but in the meantime Bauersfeld had hit upon the much more compact and adaptable solution of optically projecting the stars and planets upon the interior of a large hemispherical dome.

The comparatively small instrument comprised a number of rotating and fixed projectors, for projecting respectively the planets and stars, while the apparent motion of the sky was realised by the rotation of the instrument as a whole. Faced with the problem of designing a suitable dome, Professor Bauersfeld took a leading part, together with Dr. Dischinger and others, in originating the important Zeiss-Dywidag method of shell construction.

As an industrialist, Professor Bauersfeld was active in the management and expansion of the Carl Zeiss Foundation which he continued to lead in the spirit of its originator, Ernst Abbe. When, after 1945, the Foundation was transferred to the German Federal Republic, 1t was in a great measure his experience and initiative which enabled the Foundation to resume its work at Oberkochen and, starting from nothing, to achieve within a few years again a position of eminence among optical manufacturers. Besides many other honours, Professor Bauersfeld in 1952 received the Grashof Medal, the highest award bestowed by the Association of German Engineers. In 1957, he became the first German citizen to be awarded the James Watt International Medal by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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