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Georg Wilhelm Richmann

Richmann and his engraver during the electrocution in St. Petersburg.

Georg Wilhelm Richmann (Russian: Георг Вильгельм Рихман) (22 July 1711 – 6 August 1753), (Old Style: 11 July 1711 – 26 July 1753) was a Russian Imperial physicist of Baltic German descent. He proved that thunder clouds contain electric charge.

He was born in the city of Pernov (today Pärnu, Estonia) in Swedish Livonia, which in 1721 became part of the Russian Empire as a result of the Great Northern War (1700–1721). His father died of plague before he was born, and his mother remarried. In his early years he studied in Reval (today's Tallinn, Estonia); later he studied in Germany at the universities of Halle and Jena.

In 1741, he was elected a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. He did pioneering work on electricity and atmospheric electricity, and also worked on calorimetry, in doing so collaborating with Mikhail Lomonosov. Richmann also worked as a tutor to the children of Count Andrei Osterman. In 1741, he translated Alexander Pope's Essay on Man into German from French.

He was electrocuted in St. Petersburg while "trying to quantify the response of an insulated rod to a nearby storm." He was attending a meeting of the Academy of Sciences, when he heard thunder. The Professor ran home with his engraver to capture the event for posterity. While the experiment was underway, a supposed ball lightning appeared and collided with Richmann's head leaving him dead with a red spot on his forehead, his shoes blown open, and parts of his clothes singed. An explosion followed "like that of a small Cannon" that knocked the engraver out, split the room's door frame, and tore the door off its hinges. Reportedly, ball lightning traveled along the apparatus and was the cause of his death. He was apparently the first person in history to die while conducting electrical experiments.

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