of Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus
Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus is born on April 10th in Kieslingswalde
(now Sawnikowice in western Poland) as the seventh child of the Saxon court official Christoph von Tschirnhaus and his wife Elisabeth Eleonore Freiin Achil von Stirling.
From 1666 on Tschirnhaus attends secondary school (Gymnasium) in the regional center of Görlitz, where he already shows his broad interest in mathematics.
Tschirnhaus continues his studies in Holland and enrolls as a student in the law faculty of the Dutch university in Leiden on 8 June 1669. Nonetheless, he focuses chiefly on mathematics and natural philsophy, and he receives in these fields a thorougly modern education. He interrupts his studies for a year and a half beginning in 1672, in order to serve as a soldier for the Netherlands.
He meets Spinoza in Holland and begins a lively correspondence with him. Im the summer of 1675 Tschirnhaus travels to London and conducts research at the Royal Society. He makes the acquaintance of the physicists Robert Boyle, Denis Papin, and Isaac Newton as well as of the secretary of the Society, Henry Oldenbourg. Im September he travels to Paris and meets Christiaan Huygens at the Académie des Sciences, where he is also introduced to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz with the help of Oldenbourg.
Tschirnhaus begins a study tour that, over the course of several years, will lead him to Italy, Malta, France, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and finally back to Saxony. In Paris he first sees the use of a burning mirror by François Villette and observes melting experiments conducted on mineral samples. He leaves Paris at the end of November and travels to Lyon, where he carries out burning-mirror experiments with Villette. Then he continues his travels via Turin and Milan, where he meets the cathedral canon Manfredo Settala and is shown the latter's collection of physical and chemical apparatus. He journeys to Rome via Venice and Bologna. There he meets the physicist and renowned collector of optical devices, Athanasius Kircher, as well as the mathematician and physisict Alfonso Borelli, who acquaints him with methods of optical polishing. After stays in Naples, Sicily, Milan, Geneva, Paris, and the Netherlands, he journeys to Hanover and sees Leibniz again.
Tschirnhaus returns to his birthplace in Kieslingswalde und begins to work with the mechanic Johann Hoffmann on the construction of burning mirrors.
Tschirnhaus returns to Paris via Holland and Belgium.
Tschirnhaus travels to Paris a third time. On July 22nd, he becomes the first German member of the Académie des Sciences, largely due to his mathematical investigations and especially his research in theoretical optics. Between 1682 and 1688 he has numerous burning mirrors made, and in 1682 he reports to Leibniz of his new method of constructing these using copper plates. In the same year he marries Elisabeth Eleonore von Lest (died 1692) in Kieslingswalde.
By this time Tschirnhaus has developed plans for a Saxon academy of sciences and engineering; these are never realized on account of financial difficulties.
In 1686 Tschirnhaus makes the large spherical burning mirror that still today is housed in the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon in Dresden. Tschirnhaus' medical tract Medicina corporis is published in Amsterdam, and a year later his chief philosophical work, the Medicina mentis, appears. In this latter work he discusses the fundamental question of what consitutes new scientific knowledge and how it is attained, and he also posits twelve rules for the maintenance of good health.
Tschirnhaus reports on the effects achieved by the burning mirrors produced under his direction in the prominent journal Acta Eruditorum. In this year he is able to liquify asbestos, which since antiquity had been regarded as inflammable. Tschirnhaus turns his attention now to the production of large burning lenses.
In Acta Eruditorum he reports on the manufacture of a 25-kg glass block in his workshop in Kieslingswalde. In order to shrink the area of the focal region and increase the energy concentration, Tschirnhaus introduces a second ('collecting') lens into his refractive burning apparatus.
Tschirnhaus enters the service of the Saxon ruler Johann Georg IV and receives the court title of a Saxon councillor (kurfürstlich-sächsischer Rat).
In 1694, in connection with chemical experiments, Tschirnhaus speaks of having manufactured porcelain for the first time. The experiments in this direction, which he began in the winter of 1693, will accompany him to his death.
Using a burning lens from Tschirnhaus, Guiseppe Averani and Cipriano Targioni conduct experiments on diamonds in Florence that receive international attention. Back in Saxony, the glass manufacturer Constantin Fremel experiments with the pouring of molten glass in Pretzsch. Tschirnhaus publishes this successful new method in Acta Eruditorum, where he also reports extensively on his experiments with burning lenses, both now and in subsequent years.
Tschirnhaus establishes contact with the Saxon elector, Augustus the Strong, and argues for the founding of glass and porcelain factories. Augustus essentially agrees with this initiative, yet Tschirnhaus is first charged with the task of finding 'all places in Saxony with deposits of the precious stones jasper, agate, amethyst, and topaz,' in order to build what are thought to be the requisite mineral reserves. Tschirnhaus finds a deposit of coral agate near Hilbersdorf.
A sanding and polishing mill is established in Dresden on the Weißeritz River, in order to refine the poured glass blocks developed by Tschirnhaus. The founding of this mill is largely due to Tschirnhaus' initiative.
The new glass factories in Dresden and Glücksburg begin production under the supervision of Tschirnhuas. He heads up these factories until his death.
The pedagogical treatise Gründliche Anleitung zu nützlichen Wissenschaften appears; it emphasizes the importance of a solid grounding in mathematics and the natural sciences.
Tschirnhaus is sent by Count von Fürstenberg on a winter business and study trip to Holland and France, where he conducts further research on the manufacture of porcelain. He visits the ceramic factories in Delft and Saint Cloud, among other places. At the same time, he tries to find a market for Saxon products (glass, semi-precious stones, and blue dies).
In March Tschirnhaus first encounters the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger. He urges the government to establish a Saxon porcelain manufacture. Böttger's attention is re-directed by Tschirnhaus toward ceramic experiments and away from unsuccessful attempts to create gold through transmutation. Together with Böttger and the Freiberg mining official Papst von Ohain, Tschirnhaus works over the next several years on the the problem of producing porcelain (in Meißen, Königstein, and Dresden). In 1704 he is assigned by the king to closely supervise Böttger's experiments. In February, he marries Elisabeth von der Schulenburg zu Mühlbach.
Tschirnhaus, Böttger, and Papst succeed in making red stoneware. Augustus the Strong erects a laboratory for Tschirnhaus in the Jungfernbastei in Dresden, so that the latter can continue his experiments in the making of porcelain. In December 1707, Böttger shows the king a small, porcelain teapot that in his own words was 'made with the help of Herrn von Zschirnhausen.'
Tschirnhaus falls ill with an intestinal disease and dies on October 11th in Dresden. He is buried four days later in Kieslingswalde. The memorial service takes place on December 28th. His brother Georg Albrecht erects an epitaph for Tschirnhaus in 1709.