Arthur Joachim von Oettingen, a Baltic-German physicist and music theorist, studied astronomy and then physics at the University of Dorpat from 1853. In 1859 he continued his studies in physics at the laboratories of A.C. Becquerel and H.V. Regnault in Paris, where he also gave attention to mathematics, anatomy and physiology. Next he went to Berlin for further studies in physics and classes in mathematics. His research for the Masters degree involved an investigation of the Leyden battery (Leyden jar, an early electric capacitor), and led to two papers in Poggendorff's Annalen in 1862 and 1863. He was awarded the doctoral degree in physics at Dorpat for a thesis titled Ueber die Correction der Thermometer, insbesondere ueber Bessel's Kalibrir-Methode (1865).
In 1868 Oettingen was appointed as professor at Dorpat, where he established a meteorological observatory. During the eighteen-seventies he published several papers on meteorological investigations, particularly the measurement of wind by means of a "wind component integrator" - a type of anemometer. A man of wide scientific interests, he later published papers on topics such as thermodynamics, instincts in birds, photography, geometry, and electrical spark discharges.
In 1893 he moved to the University of Leipzig, Germany, where he remained as a lecturer and honorary professor until 1919. There he published the third and fourth volumes of Poggendorff's Biographisch-Literarisches Handwoertebuch der exakten Naturwissenschaften (1898, 1904). He also expounded a theory of acoustic relationships known as harmonic dualism and introduced the milli-octave as a measure of musical interval, though the latter failed to replace the division of the octave into 1200 cents. His theory was published in Das duale Harmoniesystem (1913). However, his major interest during his later years was in the history of physics. From 1894 onward he edited several works by pioneers in physics such as L. Galvani, A. Volta, M. Faraday, Galileo Galilei, J.R. Rydberg, and H.C. Oersted, as well as the thermometry of Fahrenheit, Reamur and Celsius. His own books included Elemente der projektieven dioptrik (1909), Die schule der physik (1910), and Die grundlage der musikwissenschaft (1916).
Von Oettingen visited South Africa early in 1899 and delivered two lectures before the Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa: "The theory of solutions" (21 January) and "The theory of dissociation as applied to galvanic currents" (18 February). In recognition of his contributions to pure chemistry he was elected an honorary member of the society.