Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- For Josiah Willard Gibbs, Sr. see Willard Gibbs (linguist)
Gibbs' scientific career can be divided into four phases. Up until 1879, he worked on the theory of thermodynamics. From 1880 to 1884, he worked on the field of vector analysis. From 1882 to 1889, he worked on Optics and the theory of light. After 1889, he worked on textbooks on statistical mechanics.
Gibbs was born in New Haven, Connecticut, where his father was a professor of sacred literature at Yale University's Divinity School, best known today for his involvement in the Amistad trial. (Though his father was also named Josiah Willard, he is not referred to as "Josiah Willard Gibbs, Jr.") Gibbs attended Yale College of Yale University, receiving prizes in mathematics and Latin. He graduated, high in his class, in 1858.
Gibbs continued his studies at Yale, gaining his Ph. D. degree in 1863. This was the first engineering doctorate granted in the United States. He then tutored in Yale College: two years in Latin and a year in what was then called "natural philosophy." In 1866 he went to Europe to study, spending one year each at Paris, Berlin, and Heidelberg. These three years were almost the only time he was ever away from the New Haven area.
In 1869 he returned to Yale and, in 1871, he was appointed Professor of Mathematical Physics. This was the first professorship in mathematical physics in the United States. It was unpaid, in part because Gibbs had never published.
Gibbs then started work on the development and presentation of his theory of thermodynamics. In 1873, Gibbs 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' construct (which he sent to Gibbs and which Yale still retains with great pride).
- Some chemical potential concepts
- Some free energy concepts
- A Gibbsian ensemble ideal (basis of the statistical mechanics field)
- A phase rule
From 1880 to 1884, Gibbs combined the ideas of the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton on quaternions and the German Hermann Grassmann's Theory of Extension (Ausdehnungslehre) to produce the mathematical field of vector analysis (co-independent formulation; Oliver Heaviside also developed this field). Gibbs designed this to suit the purposes of mathematical physics.
From 1882 to 1889, Gibbs researched optics, developing a new electrical theory of light. Gibbs also completed his vector analysis during this time. Gibbs deliberately avoided theorizing on the structure of matter, developing a theory of more generality than any type of matter composition would imply. After 1889, Gibbs produced textbooks on statistical mechanics, which was published by Yale in 1902.
Gibbs never married, but lived with his sister and brother-in-law. His brother-in-law was librarian at Yale and publisher of the Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Sciences, the journal which published most of Gibbs' work.
Death and afterwards
Gibbs remained at Yale until his death in 1903.
Since Gibbs died shortly after the inauguration of the Nobel Prizes, he never won a Nobel. However, his receipt of the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of the United Kingdom is regarded as the highest honor available at the time from the international scientific community.
Among the honors given to Gibbs' memory after his death, Yale University created the "J. Willard Gibbs Professorship in Theoretical Chemistry". Held during most of his career at Yale by eventual Nobel Prize laureate Lars Onsager, it was an extremely appropriate title for Onsager, who was primarily involved, like Gibbs, in the application of new mathematical ideas to problems in physical chemistry, especially statistical mechanics.
Since, in the mid-1800s, American colleges had little interest in the sciences and emphasized classics, Gibbs found little student interest in his lectures. The interest in his work came mainly from other scientists, particularly the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Even that recognition was slow in coming, because he published in an obscure journal which was not widely read in Europe, and it was only when Wilhelm Ostwald translated his papers into book form in German (in 1888) and Henri Le Châtelier made a French translation (in 1899), that his ideas received wide currency in Europe.
- Science: Information theory, Information entropy, Quaternion
- Electricity: Maxwell's equations, Inductor
- Mathematics: Gibbs phenomenon
- Physical chemistry: Matter phase, Gibbs phase rule, Statistical mechanics, Free energy
- People: Gilbert N. Lewis, William Rowan Hamilton, Lars Onsager, Ludwig Boltzmann, William Stanley, Oliver Heaviside
- Other: Copley Medal, Yale University, Grove Street Cemetery
- Lists: List of physicists, Timeline processes, List of physics topics
Sorted by date
- Bumstead, H. A., "Josiah Willard Gibbs". American Journal of Science, 4, XVI. 1903.
- Longley, W. R., and R. G. Van Name, "The Collected Works of J Willard Gibbs". 1928.
- Donnan, F. G., and A. E. Haas, "A Commentary on the Scientific Writings of J Willard Gibbs". 1936. ASIN 0405125445
- Rukeyser,M., "Willard Gibbs: American Genius". 1942. ASIN 0918024579
- Gibbs, J. Willard, "The Early Work of Willard Gibbs in Applied Mechanics". 1947. ISBN 1881987175
- Wheeler, L. P., "Josiah Willard Gibbs, The History of a Great Mind". 1952. ISBN 1881987116
- Gibbs, J. Willard, "Scientific Papers". 1961. ASIN 084462127
- Crowther, J. G., "Famous American Men of Science". 1969. ISBN 0836900405
- Seeger, R., "Men of physics : J. Willard Gibbs, American mathematical physicist par excellence". 1974. ASIN 0080180132
External links and references
- The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, "Josiah Willard Gibbs". School of Mathematics and Statistics. University of St Andrews, Scotland.
- AIP, "Josiah Willard Gibbs 1839-1903". 1976, 2003.
- Friel, Charles Michael, "J. Willard Gibbs".
- Jolls, Kenneth R., and Daniel C. Coy, "Gibbs models". Iowa State University.
- "Dr. J. Willard Gibbs".
- Rukeyser, Muriel, "Willard Gibbs", Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge, CT, ISBN 0-918024-57-9 [Reprint of first edition published in 1942].
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