Gilbert N. Lewis

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Gilbert Newton Lewis (October 23, 1875 – March 23, 1946) was an American physical chemist known for the discovery of the covalent bond (see his Lewis dot structures and his 1916 paper "The Atom and the Molecule"), his purification of heavy water, his reformulation of chemical thermodynamics in a mathematically rigorous manner accessible to ordinary chemists, his theory of Lewis acids and bases, and his photochemical experiments. In 1926, Lewis coined the term "photon" for the smallest unit of radiant energy. He was a brother in Alpha Chi Sigma, the professional chemistry fraternity, and for most of his long professorial career, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.

Contents

Career

Lewis was born and raised in Weymouth, Massachusetts, where there exists a street named for him, G.N. Lewis Way, off of Summer Street. Additionally, the wing of the new Weymouth High School Chemistry department has been named in his honor. After earning his Ph.D. at Harvard under the direction of Theodore Richards, Lewis stayed as an instructor for a year before taking a traveling fellowship, studying under the physical chemists Wilhelm Ostwald at Leipzig and physicist Walther Nernst at Göttingen.[1] While working in Nernst's lab, Nernst and Lewis apparently developed a lifelong enmity. A friend of Nernst's, Walther Palmaer, was a member of the Nobel Chemistry Committee. There is evidence that he used the Nobel nominating and reporting procedures to block a Nobel Prize for Lewis in thermodynamics by nominating Lewis for the prize three times, and then using his position as a committee member to write negative reports.[2]

After his stay in Nernst's lab, Lewis returned to Harvard as an instructor for three more years, and in 1904 left to become Superintendent of Weights and Measures for the Bureau of Science of the Philippine Islands in Manila. The next year he returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) appointed him to a faculty position, in which he had a chance to join a group of outstanding physical chemists under the direction of Arthur Amos Noyes. He became an assistant professor in 1907, associate professor on 1908, and full professor in 1911. He left MIT in 1912 to become a professor of physical chemistry and dean of the College of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Lewis Hall at Berkeley, built in 1948, is named in his honor.

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