Walther Nernst

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Walther Hermann Nernst (25 June 1864 – 18 November 1941) was a German physical chemist and physicist who is known for his theories behind the calculation of chemical affinity as embodied in the third law of thermodynamics, for which he won the 1920 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Nernst helped establish the modern field of physical chemistry and contributed to electrochemistry, thermodynamics, solid state chemistry and photochemistry. He is also known for developing the Nernst equation.



Early years

Nernst was born in Briesen in West Prussia (now Wąbrzeźno, Poland) as son of Gustav Nernst, who was a district judge. Nernst went to elementary school at Graudentz. His mother is said to have been Polish by the Polish newsmagazine wprost.[1] He studied physics and mathematics at the universities of Zürich, Berlin, Graz and Wuerzburg, where he graduated in 1887.


After some work at Leipzig, he founded the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at Göttingen. Nernst invented, in 1897 an electric lamp, using an incandescent ceramic rod. His invention, known as the Nernst lamp, was the successor to the carbon lamp and the precursor to the incandescent lamp. Nernst researched osmotic pressure and electrochemistry. In 1905, he established what he referred to as his "New Heat Theorem", later known as the Third law of thermodynamics (which describes the behavior of matter as temperatures approach absolute zero). This is the work for which he is best remembered, as it provided a means of determining free energies (and therefore equilibrium points) of chemical reactions from heat measurements. Theodore Richards claimed Nernst had stolen the idea from him, but Nernst is almost universally credited with the discovery.[2]

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