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I appreciate your comments about Richard Zsigmondy and his contributions to the study of colloidal suspensions. As far as I could tell, the facts you stated are completely correct.
There is nothing wrong with Zsigmondy’s work, but I think that it is not impressive enough for the Royal Swedish Academy to make the hyperbolic declaration that their decision was “the unanimous verdict of the entire scientific world.”
The “ultramicroscope” is a dark-field microscope, an instrument that was invented in the 1700s. The dark-field feature is a part of most ordinary laboratory microscopes made today. A typical dark-field microscope can detect particles as small as about 30 nm in diameter. This is pretty good, considering that the wavelength of light is about 500 nm, and the limit of resolution of an optical microscope is about 250 nm. Zsigmondy, by applying very intense illumination from such sources as sunlight and arc lamps, was able to detect particles as small as 4 nm in diameter. By using nucleation techniques, he was able to detect particles as small as 1.5 nm in diameter. This is quite an achievement, and it cannot be done even with a scanning electron microscope today. It would be necessary to use a transmission electron microscope to get this kind of performance.
To be sure, the apparatus gave impressive results, although it was based on an old idea. Since I am an engineer myself, it slightly annoys me that the Zeiss engineer who designed and built the remakable equipment, Siedentopf, did not share this Nobel Prize. Of course, it is not unusual for engineers to fail to get the recognition they deserve.
The Academy apparently considered Siedentopf to be just a lab assistant.
As I said, I don’t find any fault with Zsigmondy’s work. His investigations were very thorough and laborious. The major scientific significance of his work is that it proved that colloids were pariculate in nature. It had already been observed at the time that coarser colloids were paricles, but Zsigmondy proved that colloids were particulate in nature to very small dimensions.
I would call Zsigmondy’s accomplishments “very good work,” but not “best in the world.”
I did not mention Zsigmondy in isolation, but in comparison to Sommerfeld. If Zsigmondy had not been awarded the Nobel Prize, it would not have caused great astonishment. But it is truly amazing that Sommerfeld was never awarded the Nobel Prize.