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Wilhelm Ostwald

Wilhelm OstwaldAKA Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald

Born: 2-Sep-1853
Birthplace: Riga, Latvia
Died: 4-Apr-1932
Location of death: Leipzig, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Great Cemetery, Riga, Latvia

Gender: Male
Religion: Other [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Ostwald's Law of Dilution and Conductivity

German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald was born in Riga, Latvia (then part of the Russian Empire), and was the son of a cooper. He studied chemical affinity (the attractions between elements and compounds that lead to reactions), and won the Nobel Prize in 1909 for his work on chemical equilibria, reaction velocities, and catalysis (altering a chemical reaction by adding a substance which itself is not changed or consumed in the process). In 1893 with Jacobus H. van 't Hoff he co-founded the Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie (Journal of Physical Chemistry), and Ostwald was the journal's principle editor until 1922. In 1894 he founded the German Electrochemical Society (now the German Bunsen Society for Applied Physical Chemistry).

He patented what is still called the Ostwald process, a methodology used widely in industry to convert ammonia to nitric acid through oxidation, though evidence suggests that Ostwald's work was a rediscovery of forgotten technology from decades earlier. In 1888 he wrote what is now termed Ostwald's Law of Dilution and Conductivity, defining the relationship between the dissociation constant and the degree of dissociation of weak electrolytes. Toward the end of his career he shifted his attention to the study of shapes and tried to establish a scientific standardization scheme for colors.

After his 1906 retirement from academics, he became active in Germany's monistic movement, challenging the church with "Sunday sermons" on a unified science of nature called Energetics, a generalized form of thermodynamics which included Ostwald's "happiness formula" presented in scientific terms. Until about 1908 he was an avid disbeliever in the reality of atoms. His son Wolfgang Ostwald (1883-1943) was also a chemist of some renown, who described the electrical and optical properties of colloids.


[1] Energetics (see biography, above).

Father: Gottfried Wilhelm Ostwald (cooper, b. 1824, d. 1903)
Mother: Elisabeth Leuckel (b. 1824, d. 1903)
Brother: Eugen (b. 1851, d. 1932)
Brother: Gottfried (b. 1855, d. 1918)
Wife: Helene von Reyher (b. 1854, m. 1880, d. 1956, two daughters, three sons)
Daughter: Grete (b. 1882, d. 1960)
Son: Wolfgang (chemist, b. 1883, d. 1943)
Daughter: Elisabeth (b. 1884, d. 1968)
Son: Walter (b. 1886, d. 1958)
Son: Karl Otto (b. 1890, d. 1958)

    University: Riga State Gymnasium No.1, Riga, Latvia (1872)
    University:
BS, University of Tartu (1875)
    University: MS, University of Tartu (1876)
    University: PhD, University of Tartu (1878)
    Lecturer: University of Dorpat (1877-82)
    Professor: Riga Polytechnicum (1882-87)
    Professor: University of Leipzig (1887-1906)
    Professor: Visting Professor, Harvard University (1904-05)

    Naturalized German Citizen 1888
    German Bunsen Society for Applied Physical Chemistry Founder (1894)
    Russian Academy of Sciences Foreign Member (1896)
    German Monists' Union President (1899-1932)
    American Chemical Society Foreign Member (1900)
    International Committee on Atomic Weights
    New York Academy of Sciences Foreign Member (1908)
    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1909
    Esperanto speakers
    German Ancestry
    Latvian Ancestry
    Russian Ancestry

Author of books:
Grosse Männer: Biographies of Great Men (1909, biographies)
Textbook of General Chemistry (1884, non-fiction)
Outline of General Chemistry (1889, non-fiction)
Solutions (1891, non-fiction)
Handbook and Manual for Physicochemical Measurements (1893, non-fiction)
Electrochemistry: Its History and Doctrine (1894, non-fiction)
The Scientific Foundations of Analytical Chemistry (1895, non-fiction)


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