Walther Hermann Nernst (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Nernst won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1920 for his statement of the third law of thermodynamics. Yet his equation for the electrode potential of a voltaic cell is his best-known contribution and appears in nearly all general chemistry texts.
Walther Hermann Nernst, born in 1864, in the town of Briesen, in what was then Prussia, was not from a family of scientists. In fact, he displayed a talent for the arts and maintained a lifelong interest in the theater. Yet he was inspired by the chemistry master at the Gymnasium, where he finished at the top of his class, to become what is now called a physical chemist. During his early school and undergraduate years, the German chemical industry became world-dominant in dyestuffs and pharmaceuticals. The discovery by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828 that urea could be synthesized from inorganic materials had inspired German scientists to design chemical processes to manufacture products previously obtainable only from biological sources. There developed a strong relationship between German industry and the universities to foster this revolutionary notion of basic research aimed at the creation of new products. Industry established and maintained its own research laboratories for the development of these products. The professors from these technical universities did consulting work, which furthered the opportunities for graduating scientists and...
(The entire section is 1856 words.)
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