Ole Rømer : biography
Ole Christensen Rømer ( 25 September 1644, Århus – 19 September 1710, Copenhagen) was a Danish astronomer who in 1676 made the first quantitative measurements of the speed of light. In scientific literature alternative spellings such as "Roemer", "Römer", or "Romer" are common.
[[Rundetårn, or round tower, in Copenhagen, on top of which the university had its observatory from the mid 17th century until the mid 19th century, when it was moved to new premises. The current observatory there was built in the 20th century to serve amateurs.]]
Rømer was born on 25 September 1644 in Århus to a merchant and skipper, Christen Pedersen, and Anna Olufsdatter Storm, daughter of an alderman. Christen Pedersen had taken to using the name Rømer, which means that he was from the Danish island of Rømø, to distinguish himself from a couple of other people named Christen Pedersen. There are few sources on Ole Rømer until his immatriculation in 1662 at the University of Copenhagen, at which his mentor was Rasmus Bartholin who published his discovery of the double refraction of a light ray by Iceland spar (calcite) in 1668, while Rømer was living in his home. Rømer was given every opportunity to learn mathematics and astronomy using Tycho Brahe’s astronomical observations, as Bartholin had been given the task of preparing them for publication.Friedrichsen; Tortzen (2001), pp. 19–20.
Rømer was employed by the French government: Louis XIV made him tutor for the Dauphin, and he also took part in the construction of the magnificent fountains at Versailles.
In 1681, Rømer returned to Denmark and was appointed professor of astronomy at the University of Copenhagen, and the same year he married Anne Marie Bartholin, the daughter of Rasmus Bartholin. He was active also as an observer, both at the University Observatory at Rundetårn and in his home, using improved instruments of his own construction. Unfortunately, his observations have not survived: they were lost in the great Copenhagen Fire of 1728. However, a former assistant (and later an astronomer in his own right), Peder Horrebow, loyally described and wrote about Rømer’s observations.
In Rømer’s position as royal mathematician, he introduced the first national system for weights and measures in Denmark on 1 May 1683. Initially based on the Rhine foot, a more accurate national standard was adopted in 1698. Later measurements of the standards fabricated for length and volume show an excellent degree of accuracy. His goal was to achieve a definition based on astronomical constants, using a pendulum. This would happen after his death, practicalities making it too inaccurate at the time. Notable is also his definition of the new Danish mile of 24,000 Danish feet (circa 7,532 m).
In 1700, Rømer managed to get the king to introduce the Gregorian calendar in Denmark-Norway — something Tycho Brahe had argued for in vain a hundred years earlier.
Ole Rømer at work Rømer also developed one of the first temperature scales. Fahrenheit visited him in 1708 and improved on the Rømer scale, the result being the familiar Fahrenheit temperature scale still in use today in a few countries.
Rømer also established several navigation schools in many Danish cities.
In 1705, Rømer was made the second Chief of the Copenhagen Police, a position he kept until his death in 1710. As one of his first acts, he fired the entire force, being convinced that the morale was alarmingly low. He was the inventor of the first street lights (oil lamps) in Copenhagen, and worked hard to try to control the beggars, poor people, unemployed, and prostitutes of Copenhagen.
In Copenhagen, Rømer made rules for building new houses, got the city’s water supply and sewers back in order, ensured that the city’s fire department got new and better equipment, and was the moving force behind the planning and making of new pavement in the streets and on the city squares.
Roemer died at the age of 65 in 1710.