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Johannes Diderik van der Waals

Johannes Diderik van der WaalsBorn: 23-Nov-1837
Birthplace: Leiden, Netherlands
Died: 9-Mar-1923
Location of death: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Nieuwe Oosterbegraafplaats, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: Netherlands
Executive summary: Investigated states of matter

As was typical in his time, Johannes Diderik van der Waals became an apprentice teacher as soon as he finished high school, and by his 24th year he was certified as a teacher. Forever curious about science, he also attended night and summer school at University of Leiden, where he earned his doctorate in 1873 at the age of 35. He studied the behavior of gases, and showed that the liquid and gas phases of a substance are of the same nature, and that the substance's behavior and transition between states could be accurately predicted. His work was predicated on the existence of molecules, still a disputed concept at the time, and the (correct) assumption that molecules are of finite size and attract each other.

The van der Waals equation describes the relation between pressure, volume, temperature, and gas. His Theorem of Corresponding States concludes that after scaling temperature, pressure, and volume according to their respective critical values, all fluids have generally the same compressibility factor and show about the same variation from ideal gas behavior.

His work soon came to the attention of James Clerk Maxwell, who recognized its importance and wrote in Nature that van der Waals' work belongs "among the foremost in science". Two years later he was elected to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, and two years after that he was named a full professor at the University of Amsterdam. Van der Waals won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1910, and taught at Amsterdam until 1908, when he was succeeded by his son, the theoretical physicist Johannes Diderik van der Waals, Jr.

Father: Jacobus van der Waals (carpenter)
Mother: Elisabeth van den Burg
Wife: Anna Magdalena Smit (b. 1847, m. 27-Sep-1865, d. 28-Dec-1881, tuberculosis)
Daughter: Anne Madeleine van der Waals
Daughter: Jacqueline Elisabeth van der Waals (poet, b. 26-Jun-1868, d. 20-Apr-1922, cancer)
Daughter: Johanna Diderica van der Waals (teacher)
Son: Johannes Diderik van der Waals, Jr. (physicist, b. 7-Aug-1873, d. 8-May-1971)

    High School: (1856)
    University: University of Leiden (studied 1862-65)
    Teacher: Deventer Hogere Burger School, Deventer, Netherlands (1864-66)
    Teacher: Hague Gymnasium, Hague, Netherlands (1866-77)
    University: PhD Physics, University of Leiden (1873)
    Professor: Physics, University of Amsterdam (1877-1908)

    Accademia dei Lincei Foreign Member
    American Philosophical Society Foreign Member
    National Academy of Sciences Foreign Member
    Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences 1875
    Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences Secretary (1896-1912)
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1910
    Risk Factors: Smoking, Depression

Author of books:
Continuity of Gaseous and Liquid States (1893, physics)


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