For one, he pioneered the study of statistical thermodynamics, which is a field of physics that provides a framework for predicting how a large number of particles will behave in a system. So, let's say you're camping and you start a fire. Boltzmann was the guy who tried to figure out what the crap was going on in those logs on a molecular level that allowed the fire to kindle, and he used fancy math formulas to figure it out. His work ultimately paved the way for the field of quantum mechanics, which eventually paved the way for the greatest time travel show ever.
Suck it, Dr. Who.
His Genius Was Rewarded By ...
Death. He got death.
And a $5 Subway gift card.
Back then, defending the existence of atoms was akin to defending creationist version of the origins of man today. Boltzmann wasn't just forced to defend something that would be accepted as fact within a few years, he was shamed for his stubborn refusal to yield and for his so-called materialist beliefs.
Nobody ever told scientists that nonmaterial science is already called philosophy. A long series of uneven debates left nearly every other supporter of atoms silent, leaving Boltzmann as their chief defender. Even colleagues who originally agreed with him began to question atoms' existence when his work seemingly undermined previously understood laws of physics.
A Helium atom, seen here being a total dick to Physics.
The emotional burden of being the only right guy in the world, coupled with what was probably undiagnosed bipolar disorder, proved too much for Boltzmann to handle, and he hung himself in 1906, only three years before another scientist proved the undeniable existence of atoms. Nice job, science.
For more from the world of science, check out 7 Incredible Scientific Innovations Held Back by Petty Feuds and 5 Famous Inventors (Who Stole Their Big Idea).
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