Walther Nernst

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Hermann Nernst)
Jump to: navigation, search
Walther Nernst
Walther Nernst SI.jpg
Born Walther Hermann Nernst
(1864-06-25)25 June 1864
Briesen, West Prussia
Died 18 November 1941(1941-11-18) (aged 77)
Zibelle, Lusatia, Germany
Nationality German
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Göttingen
University of Berlin
University of Leipzig
Alma mater University of Zürich
University of Berlin
University of Graz
University of Würzburg
Doctoral advisor Friedrich Kohlrausch
Other academic advisors Ludwig Boltzmann
Doctoral students Sir Frances Simon
Richard Abegg
Irving Langmuir
Leonid Andrussow
Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer
Frederick Lindemann
William Duane
Other notable students Gilbert N. Lewis
Max Bodenstein
Robert von Lieben
Kurt Mendelssohn
Theodor Wulf
Emil Bose
Hermann Irving Schlesinger
Claude Hudson
Known for Third Law of Thermodynamics
Nernst lamp
Nernst equation
Nernst glower
Nernst effect
Nernst heat theorem
Nernst potential
Nernst–Planck equation
Influenced J. R. Partington
Notable awards Nobel Prize in chemistry (1920)
Franklin Medal (1928)

Walther Hermann Nernst, ForMemRS[1] (25 June 1864 – 18 November 1941) was a German 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 and solid state physics. He is also known for developing the Nernst equation.

Life and career[edit]

Early years[2][edit]

Walther Nernst

Nernst was born in Briesen in West Prussia (now Wąbrzeźno, Poland) as son of Gustav Nernst (1827-1888) and Ottilie Nerger (1833-1876).[3] His father was a country judge. Nernst had three older sisters and one younger brother. The third sister died due to cholera. Nernst went to elementary school at Graudenz. He studied physics and mathematics at the universities of Zürich, Berlin, Graz and Würzburg, where he received his doctorate 1887. In 1889, he finished his habilitation at University of Leipzig.

Personal Attributes[edit]

It was said that Nernst was mechanically minded in that he was always thinking of ways to apply new discoveries to industry. Nernst's hobbies included hunting and fishing.[4]

Family History[edit]

Nernst married in 1892 to Emma Lohmeyer with whom he had two sons and three daughters. Both of Walther's sons died fighting in World War I. He was a colleague of Svante Arrhenius, and suggested setting fire to unused coal seams to increase the global temperature. He was a vocal critic of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and three daughters married Jewish men. In 1933, the rise of Nazism led to the end of Nernst's career as a scientist. Nernst died in 1941 and is buried near Max Planck, Otto Hahn and Max von Laue in Göttingen, Germany. [5]


Nernst 1912, portrait by Max Liebermann

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.[6]

In 1911, with Max Planck, he was the main organizer of the first Solvay Conference in Brussels. One year later, Max Liebermann portrayed Nernst.

In 1918, after studying photochemistry, he proposed the atomic chain reaction theory. The atomic chain reaction theory stated that when a reaction in which free atoms are formed and can decompose molecules into more free atoms which results in a chain reaction. His theory is closely related to the natural process of Nuclear Fission.

In 1920, he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in recognition of his work in thermochemistry. In 1924, he became director of the Institute of Physical Chemistry at Berlin, a position from which he retired in 1933. Nernst went on to work in electroacoustics and astrophysics.

Nernst developed an electric piano, the "Neo-Bechstein-Flügel" in 1930 in association with the Bechstein and Siemens companies, replacing the sounding board with radio amplifiers. The piano used electromagnetic pickups to produce electronically modified and amplified sound in the same way as an electric guitar.

His device, a solid-body radiator with a filament of rare-earth oxides, that would later be known as the Nernst glower, is important in the field of infrared spectroscopy. Continuous ohmic heating of the filament results in conduction. The glower operates best in wavelengths from 2 to 14 micrometers.


  • Walther Nernst, "Reasoning of theoretical chemistry: Nine papers (1889–1921)" (Ger., Begründung der Theoretischen Chemie : Neun Abhandlungen, 1889–1921). Frankfurt am Main : Verlag Harri Deutsch, c. 2003. ISBN 3-8171-3290-5
  • Walther Nernst, "The theoretical and experimental bases of the New Heat Theorem" (Ger., Die theoretischen und experimentellen Grundlagen des neuen Wärmesatzes). Halle [Ger.] W. Knapp, 1918 [tr. 1926]. [ed., this is a list of thermodynamical papers from the physico-chemical institute of the University of Berlin (1906–1916); Translation available by Guy Barr LCCN 27-2575
  • Walther Nernst, "Theoretical chemistry from the standpoint of Avogadro's law and thermodynamics" (Ger., Theoretische Chemie vom Standpunkte der Avogadroschen Regel und der Thermodynamik). Stuttgart, F. Enke, 1893 [5th edition, 1923]. LCCN po28-417

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cherwell; Simon, F. (1942). "Walther Nernst. 1864-1941". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 4 (11): 101. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1942.0010.  edit
  2. ^ Barkan, Diana (1999). Walther Nernst and the transition to modern physical science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052144456X. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ "Walther Hermann Nernst". foundationNobel Prize. Retrieved 25 Apr 2012. 
  5. ^ http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1920/nernst-bio.html Nobel Prize. Retrieved 1 december 2012
  6. ^ Coffey, Patrick (2008). Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 78–81. ISBN 0-19-532134-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Barkan, Diana Kormos (1998). Walther Nernst and the Transition to Modern Physical Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44456-X. 
  • Bartel, Hans-Georg; Huebener, Rudolf P. (2007). Walther Nernst. Pioneer of Physics and of Chemistry. Singapore: World Scientific. ISBN 981-256-560-4. 
  • Mendelssohn, Kurt Alfred Georg (1973). The World of Walther Nernst: The Rise and Fall of German Science. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-14895-9. 

External links[edit]