Wilhelm Ostwald

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Arthur Amos Noyes
Georg Bredig
Paul Walden

Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald (Latvian: Vilhelms Ostvalds; 2 September 1853 – 4 April 1932) was a Baltic German chemist. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909 for his work on catalysis, chemical equilibria and reaction velocities. Ostwald, Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff, and Svante Arrhenius are usually credited with being the modern founders of the field of physical chemistry.



Early years

Ostwald was born ethnically Baltic German in Riga, to master-cooper Gottfried Wilhelm Ostwald (1824–1903) and Elisabeth Leuckel (1824–1903). He was the middle of two brothers, Eugen (1851–1932) and Gottfried (1855–1918). Ostwald graduated from the University of Tartu, Estonia, in 1875, received his Ph.D. there in 1878 under the guidance of Carl Schmidt, and taught at Tartu from 1875 to 1881 and at Riga Polytechnicum from 1881 to 1887.


Wilhelm Ostwald is usually credited with inventing the Ostwald process (patent 1902), used in the manufacture of nitric acid, although the basic chemistry had been patented some 64 years earlier by Kuhlmann, when it was probably of only academic interest due to the lack of a significant source of ammonia. That may have still been the state of affairs in 1902, although things were due to change dramatically in the second half of the decade as a result of Haber and Bosch's work on their nitrogen fixing process (completed by 1911 or 1913). The date 1908 (six years after the patent) is often given for the invention of the Ostwald process, and it may be that these developments motivated him to do additional work to commercialize the process in that time-frame. Alternatively, six years might simply have been the bureaucratic interval between filing the patent and the time it was granted.

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