Chapter 19: The Experimentation with Nothing

Otto von Guericke: Experimenta Nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica De Vacuo Spatio (Amsterdam 1672).

published December 2020

The favourite book of Roland Gröbli

Continuing our popular series, Roland Gröbli, Corporate Secretary of Georg Fischer Ltd and Chairman of the Governing Board of the Iron Library Foundation, presents his favorite discovery to date in the library: the great work of the longtime mayor of Magdeburg and experimental researcher, Otto von Guericke. He is particularly enthused by an experiment presented by Otto von Guericke in 1654 before the Reichstag in Regensburg. Two teams of eight horses each could not separate two hemispheres, held  together only by a vacuum.

The reader

The book in which I would like to play a part ...

Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad

This book is a work of the century in every respect. The Colombian journalist and writer Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) leads us into the world of real magic.


The book I would like to read a continuation of ...

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

If possible, I buy a book on history in every country where I happen to be. This biography of the American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (born 1943) about the reign of Abraham Lincoln also takes into account the perspective of his rivals for the office of President of the United States at the time. An incredibly good, illuminating and exciting book.


The books that are currently lying on my bedside table ...

Hans Blumberg, Die Lesbarkeit der Welt

Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, Living Saints of the Thirteenth Century

The book

Otto von Guericke: Experimenta Nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica De Vacuo Spatio (Amsterdam 1672).

My understanding of technology and engineering is definitely within manageable limits. In this series, I would therefore like to highlight a book that inspires both natural scientists and humanities scholars. The mayor of Magdeburg, Otto von Guericke (1602-1686), dedicated a large part of his life and his free time to the exploration of nothingness (what is there in mysticism that is bigger or deeper than nothingness?), but precisely out of natural scientific interest.

He found out about nothingness, that is to say vacuum, in many different ways, with a great deal of ingenuity and with the help of countless experiments. He is one of the first German researchers of modern times.

I particularly admire Guericke for an experiment he demonstrated at the Reichstag that was held in Regensburg in 1654. He used a vacuum pump to extract all the air from the inside of a metal ball, which was made up of two halves. Eight horses then pulled at the end of each of the hemispheres and could not separate them. As soon as he filled the sphere with air again, the two hemispheres could be separated without any problems. This public and also pedagogically very skillful experiment became his most famous triumph, which carried his name as an ingenious researcher far beyond the professional circles and helped him earn a noble title in 1666.

The book in IRONCAT

Guericke's great work in the catalog of the Iron Library