Josiah Willard Gibbs (February 11, 1839 – April
28, 1903) was an American theoretical
physicist,
chemist, and
mathematician. He devised much of the
theoretical foundation for
chemical thermodynamics as well as
physical chemistry. As a
mathematician, he invented
vector analysis (independently of
Oliver Heaviside). It is in good part
thanks to Gibbs that much of physical and chemical theory has since
been exposited using vector analysis.
Yale University awarded Gibbs the first American Ph.D. in engineering in
1863, and he spent his entire career at Yale. His thesis was
entitled:
On the Form of the Teeth of Wheels in Spur
Gearing.
In 1901, Gibbs was awarded the highest possible honor granted by
the international scientific community of his day, granted to only
one scientist each year: the
Copley
Medal of the
Royal Society
of London, for his greatest contribution, that being "the first
to apply the
second law of
thermodynamics to the exhaustive discussion of the relation
between chemical, electrical, and thermal energy and capacity for
external work."
Biography
Early years
Gibbs in his youth.
Gibbs was the seventh in a long line of American academics
stretching back to the 17th century.
His father, a professor of sacred
literature at the
Yale Divinity
School, is now most remembered for his involvement in the
Amistad trial. Although the
father was also named Josiah Willard, the son is never referred to
as "Jr." Five other members of Gibbs's extended family were named
Josiah Willard Gibbs. His mother was the daughter of a Yale
graduate in literature.
After
attending the Hopkins
School, Gibbs matriculated at
Yale
College at the age of 15. He graduated in 1858 near
the top of his class, and was awarded prizes in
mathematics and
Latin.
Middle years
In 1863, Gibbs was awarded the first
Ph.D. degree in
engineering in the USA from the
Sheffield Scientific School at
Yale. He then tutored at Yale, two years in Latin and one year in
what was then called
natural
philosophy, now comparable to the natural sciences,
particularly physics.
In 1866 he went to Europe to study, spending
a year each at Paris, Berlin, and Heidelberg, where he was influenced by Kirchhoff and Helmholtz. At the time, German
academics were the leading authorities in
chemistry,
thermodynamics, and theoretical natural
science in general. These three years account for nearly all of his
life spent outside New Haven.
In 1869,
he returned to Yale and was
appointed Professor of Mathematical
Physics in 1871, the first such professorship in the United
States and a position he held for the rest of his life. The
appointment was unpaid at first, a situation common in Germany and
otherwise not unusual at the time, because Gibbs had yet to publish
anything. Between 1876 and 1878 Gibbs wrote a series of papers on
the graphical analysis of multi-phase chemical systems. These were
eventually published together in a monograph titled
On the
Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances, his most renowned
work. It is now deemed one of the greatest scientific achievements
of the 19th century, and one of the foundations of
physical chemistry. In these papers Gibbs
applied
thermodynamics to interpret
physicochemical phenomena, successfully explaining and
interrelating what had previously been a mass of isolated
facts.
"It is universally recognised that its publication was
an event of the first importance in the history of chemistry. ...
Nevertheless it was a number of years before its value
was generally known, this delay was due largely to the fact that
its mathematical form and rigorous deductive processes make it
difficult reading for anyone, and especially so for students of
experimental chemistry whom it most
concerns...
" (J J O'Connor and E F Robertson, J.
Willard Gibbs)
Some important topics covered in his other papers on heterogeneous
equilibria include:
Gibbs also wrote on theoretical
thermodynamics. In 1873, he published a paper
on the
geometric representation of
thermodynamic quantities. This paper inspired
Maxwell to make (with his own hands) a
plaster cast illustrating Gibbs's construct which he then sent to
Gibbs. Yale proudly owns it to this day.
Later years
In 1880,
the new Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore, Maryland offered Gibbs a position paying $3000. Yale
responded by raising his salary to $2000, and he did not leave New
Haven. From 1880 to 1884, Gibbs combined the ideas of two
mathematicians, the
quaternions of
William Rowan Hamilton and
the
exterior algebra of
Hermann Grassmann to obtain
vector analysis (independently formulated by
the British mathematical
physicist and
engineer Oliver
Heaviside). Gibbs designed vector analysis to clarify and
advance
mathematical
physics.
From 1882 to 1889, Gibbs refined his vector analysis, wrote on
optics, and developed a new electrical theory
of light. He deliberately avoided theorizing about the structure of
matter, a wise decision in view of the revolutionary developments
in
subatomic particles and
quantum mechanics that began
around the time of his death. His chemical thermodynamics was a
theory of greater generality than any other theory of matter extant
in his day.
After 1889, he worked on
statistical mechanics, laying a
foundation and "providing a mathematical framework for
quantum theory and for
Maxwell's theories" He wrote classic textbooks on
statistical mechanics, which Yale
published in 1902. Gibbs also contributed to
crystallography and applied his vector
methods to the determination of
planetary and
comet orbits.
Not much is known about the names and careers of Gibbs's
students.
Gibbs never married, living all his life in his childhood home with
a sister and his brother-in-law, the Yale librarian. His focus on
science was such that he was generally unavailable personally. His
protégé E.B. Wilson explains:
"Except in the classroom I saw very little of Gibbs. He had a way,
toward the end of the afternoon, of taking a stroll about the
streets between his study in the old Sloane Laboratory and his home
-- a little exercise between work and dinner -- and one might
occasionally come across him at that time."
Gibbs died in New
Haven and is buried in Grove Street Cemetery.
Scientific recognition
Recognition was slow in coming, in part because Gibbs published
mainly in the
Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of
Sciences, a journal edited by his librarian brother-in-law,
little read in the USA and even less so in Europe.
At first, only a few
European theoretical physicists
and chemists, such as the Scot James Clerk Maxwell, paid any attention
to his work. Only when Gibbs's papers were translated into
German (then the leading language for chemistry) by
Wilhelm Ostwald in 1892, and into French by
Henri Louis le Chatelier in
1899, did his ideas receive wide currency in Europe. His theory of
the phase rule was experimentally validated by the works of
H. W. Bakhuis Roozeboom, who
showed how to apply it in a variety of situations, thereby assuring
it of widespread use.
Gibbs was even less appreciated in his native America.
Nevertheless, he was recognised as follows:
During his lifetime, American colleges and secondary schools
emphasized classics rather than science, and students took little
interest in his Yale lectures. (That scientific teaching and
research are a fundamental part of the modern university emerged in
Germany during the 19th century and only gradually spread from
there to the USA.) Gibbs's position at Yale and in American science
generally has been described as follows:
"In his later years he was a tall, dignified gentleman,
with a healthy stride and ruddy complexion, performing his share of
household chores, approachable and kind (if unintelligible) to
students.
Gibbs was highly esteemed by his friends, but American
science was too preoccupied with practical questions to make much
use of his profound theoretical work during his
lifetime.
He lived out his quiet life at Yale, deeply admired by
a few able students but making no immediate impress on American
science commensurate with his genius."
(Crowther 1969: nnn)
This is not to say that Gibbs was unknown in his day.
For example, the
mathematician Gian-Carlo Rota, while
casually browsing the mathematical stacks of Sterling
Library, stumbled on a handwritten mailing list attached to
some of Gibbs's course notes. It listed over two hundred
notable scientists of his day, including
Poincaré,
Hilbert,
Boltzmann, and
Mach. One can conclude that Gibbs's work
was better known among the scientific elite of his day than
published material suggests.
Gibbs' contributions, however, were not fully recognized until some
time after the 1923 publication of
Gilbert N. Lewis and
Merle
Randall's
Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical
Substances, which introduced Gibbs's methods to chemists
worldwide. These methods also became much of the foundation for
chemical engineering.
According to the
American
Mathematical Society, which established the Josiah Willard
Gibbs Lectureship in 1923 to increase public awareness of the
aspects of
mathematics and its
applications, Gibbs is one of the greatest scientists America has
ever produced.
In 1945, Yale University created the
J.
Willard
Gibbs Professorship in Theoretical Chemistry, held until 1973
by
Lars Onsager, who won the 1968 Nobel
Prize in chemistry. This appointment was a very fitting one, as
Onsager, like Gibbs, was primarily involved in the application of
new mathematical ideas to problems in physical chemistry,
especially statistical mechanics. Yale's J. W. Gibbs Laboratory and
J. Willard Gibbs Assistant Professorship in Mathematics are also
named in his honor. On February 28, 2003, Yale held a symposium on
the centennial of his death.
Rutgers
University has a J. Willard
Gibbs Professorship of Thermomechanics presently held by
Bernard D. Coleman.
In 1950, Gibbs was elected to the
Hall of Fame for Great
Americans.
On May 4, 2005, the
United
States Postal Service issued the
American Scientists
commemorative
postage stamp series,
depicting Gibbs,
John von Neumann,
Barbara McClintock and
Richard Feynman.
Nobelists influenced by the work of Gibbs
The following individuals won a Nobel Prize in whole or in part by
building on Gibbs's work:
- Johann van der
Waals of the Netherlands won the 1910 Nobel prize in physics. In his Nobel
Lecture, he acknowledged the influence on his work of Gibbs's
equations of state.
- Max Planck of Germany won the 1918
Nobel prize in physics for
his work in quantum mechanics,
particularly his 1900 quantum theory paper. This work
is largely based on the thermodynamics of Rudolf Clausius, Gibbs, and Ludwig Boltzmann. Nevertheless, Planck said
about Gibbs: "…whose name not only in America but in the whole
world will ever be reckoned among the most renowned theoretical
physicists of all times…".
- At the turn of the 20th century, Gilbert N. Lewis and Merle
Randall used and extended Gibbs's work on chemical thermodynamics, published
their results in the 1923 textbook Thermodynamics and the Free
Energy of Chemical Substances, one of the two founding books
in chemical thermodynamics. In the 1910s, William Giauque entered the College of
Chemistry at Berkeley, where he received a bachelor of science
degree in chemistry, with honors, in 1920. At first he wanted to
become a chemical engineer, but
soon developed an interest in chemical research under Lewis's
influence. In 1934, Giauque became a full Professor of Chemistry at
Berkeley. In 1949, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his
studies in the properties of matter at temperatures close to
absolute zero, studies guided by the third law of
thermodynamics.
- Gibbs strongly influenced the education of the economist
Irving Fisher, who was awarded a Yale
Ph.D. in economics in 1896. One of Gibbs's protegés was Edwin Bidwell Wilson, who in turn
passed his Gibbsian knowledge to the American economist Paul
Samuelson. In 1947, Samuelson published Foundations of Economic
Analysis, based on his Harvard University doctoral dissertation. Samuelson explicitly
acknowledged the influence of the classical thermodynamic methods of
Gibbs. Samuelson was the sole recipient of the
Nobel Prize in Economics in 1970, the second year of the Prize.
In 2003,
Samuelson described Gibbs as "Yale's great
physicist".
Tributes
Quotations
- "Mathematics is a language." (reportedly spoken by
Gibbs at a Yale faculty meeting)
- "A mathematician may say anything he pleases, but a physicist
must be at least partially sane."
- "It has been said that 'the human mind has never invented a
labor-saving machine equal to algebra.' If this be true, it is but
natural and proper that an age like our own, characterized by the
multiplication of labor-saving machinery, should be distinguished
by the unexampled development of this most refined and most
beautiful of machines." (1887, quoted in Meinke and Tucker 1992:
190)
Commemoration
The
United States Navy oceanographic research ship
USNS Josiah
Willard Gibbs , in service from 1958 to 1971, was named
for Gibbs.
See also
- Science: Information theory, Information entropy
- Electricity:
Maxwell's equations
- Mathematics:
Gibbs phenomenon, Vector Analysis , cross product
- Physical
chemistry: Matter phase,
Gibbs phase rule, Statistical mechanics, Free energy
- Named for Gibbs: Gibbs free energy, Gibbs
entropy, Gibbs inequality,
Gibbs paradox, Gibbs-Helmholtz equation, Gibbs algorithm, Gibbs distribution, Gibbs state, Gibbs
sampling, Gibbs-Marangoni
effect, Gibbs-Duhem
relation, Gibbs phenomenon,
Gibbs-Donnan effect
- People: Gilbert
N. Lewis, William Rowan Hamilton, Lars Onsager, Ludwig Boltzmann, William Stanley, Oliver Heaviside
- Lists: List of
physicists,
Timeline of thermodynamics, List of physics topics, List of
notable textbooks in statistical mechanics
Notes
References
Primary:
- 1947. The Early Work of Willard Gibbs in Applied
Mechanics, New York, Henry Schuman
- 1961. Scientific Papers of J Willard Gibbs, 2 vols.
Bumstead, H. A., and Van Name, R. G., eds. ISBN 0918024773
- Elementary Principles in Statistical
Mechanics.
Secondary :
- Online bibliography.
- American Institute of Physics, 2003 (1976). Josiah Willard Gibbs
- Bumstead, H. A., 1903. "Josiah Willard Gibbs" American
Journal of Science XVI(4).
- Crowther, J. G., 1969. Famous American Men of Science.
ISBN 0836900405
- Donnan, F. G., Haas, A. E., and Duhem, P. M. M., 1936. A
Commentary on the Scientific Writings of J Willard Gibbs. ISBN
0405125445
- Hastings, Charles S. ,1909. Josiah Willard Gibbs.
Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences
6:372–393.
- Longley, W. R., and R. G. Van Name, eds., 1928. The
Collected Works of J Willard Gibbs.
- Meinke, K., and Tucker, J. V., 1992, "Universal Algebra" in
Abramsky, S., Gabbay, D., and Maibaum, T. S. E., eds., Handbook
of Logic in Computer Science: Vol. I. Oxford Univ.
Press: 189-411. ISBN 0198537611
- Muriel Rukeyser, 1942.
Willard Gibbs: American Genius. Woodbridge, CT: Ox Bow
Press. ISBN 0918024579.
- Seeger, Raymond John, 1974. J. Willard Gibbs,
American mathematical physicist par excellence. Pergamon
Press. ISBN 0080180132
- Wheeler, L. P., 1952. Josiah Willard Gibbs, The History of
a Great Mind. ISBN 1881987116
- Edwin Bidwell Wilson (1931)
"Reminiscences of Gibbs by a student and colleague", Scientific
Monthly 32:211-27.
- Dictionary of American Naval Fighting
Ships: San Carlos
External links