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J. Willard Gibbs

AKA Josiah Willard Gibbs, Jr.

Born: 11-Feb-1839
Birthplace: New Haven, CT
Died: 28-Apr-1903
Location of death: New Haven, CT
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, CT

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Physicist, Mathematician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Elementary Principles in Statistical Mathematics

Mathematician and physicist J. Willard Gibbs described thermodynamic equilibrium and developed the science of statistical mechanics. His PhD, in 1863, was the first doctorate in Engineering earned in America. He wrote his most famous paper, "On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances", in 1876, and after it was published James Clerk Maxwell mailed Gibbs a handmade three-dimensional model of the thermodynamic surface Gibbs had described. His classic text, Elementary Principles in Statistical Mathematics, was published in 1902, just months before his death.

He never married, lived alone, never sought membership in any scientific organization, and reportedly eschewed most social contact outside of academic circles. Respected but hardly famous in his own time, Gibbs' work was widely noticed only after his death, and he has since been acknowledged as among the greatest theoretical scientists. His observations on classical physics, described as "abstruse but beautifully logical", are generally applicable in quantum mechanics as well. He also invented and patented a mechanical brake for railroad cars.

His father, Josiah Willard Gibbs, Sr., was a philology professor at Yale, and served as translator and English tutor for Joseph Cinqué and other Africans who seized the slave ship Amistad and sought freedom in America.

Father: Josiah Willard Gibbs, Sr. (professor of philology, b. 1790, d. 1861)

    High School: Hopkins School, New Haven, CT
    University: BA, Yale University (1858)
    University: PhD Engineering, Yale University (1863)
    Teacher: Latin and Biology, Yale University (1863-66)
    Scholar: University of Paris (1869-70)
    Scholar: University of Berlin (1870)
    Scholar: University of Heidelberg (1870-71)
    Professor: Mathematical physics, Yale University (1871-1903)

    Copley Medal 1901
    Rumford Prize 1880
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics (1902)
The Scientific Papers of J. Williard Gibbs (1906, two volumes)

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #3907 (37 cents, portrait over thermodynamics illustration, issued 4-May-2005)

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