Physical Chemists

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Physical chemists study the physical properties and chemical compositions of substances, and analyze why certain materials react or behave the way they do. Physical chemistry is the branch of chemistry that deals with the physical structure of chemical compounds and they way they react when they come in contact with other compounds, the energy they possess and the bonds that hold their atoms together. It is a macroscopic or supra-molecular science that uses the principles and concepts of physics to understand chemical systems. Physical chemists work at the atomic and molecular level of materials—solid, liquid or gas—to discover and understand their fundamental characteristics. They basically work in laboratories, and work with sophisticated equipment, complex instruments and state-of-the-art computers to analyze various materials and develop theories. The results of such research are used to discover new uses for materials in industry-specific applications. Physical chemists work in government agencies, academics, plastic industry, pharmaceuticals, research institutions, etc. The field of physical chemistry is an interdisciplinary one; nanoscale science, analytical chemistry, and molecular modeling are related areas. Read on to browse through a list of world famous physical chemists and read their biographies and timelines.
Vote for Your Favourite Physical Chemists
 1 
Fritz Haber
(Chemist)
Fritz Haber
4
Birthdate: December 9, 1868
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Wrocław
Died: January 29, 1934

Fritz Haber was a German chemist who was honored with the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry for inventing the Haber-Bosch process. The process is used widely to synthesize ammonia from hydrogen gas and nitrogen gas. For his pioneering work in weaponizing poisonous gases like chlorine during World War I, Haber is referred to as the father of chemical warfare.

 2 
Svante Arrhenius
(Scientist)
Svante Arrhenius
6
Birthdate: February 19, 1859
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vik
Died: October 2, 1927

Svante Arrhenius was a Swedish scientist who became the first Swedish person to win a Nobel Prize when he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903. Although he was originally a physicist, Arrhenius is widely accepted as a chemist and is best remembered for co-founding physical chemistry. Stockholm University houses the Arrhenius Labs, which is named in his honor.

 3 
Gilbert N. Lewis
(Physical chemist)
Gilbert N. Lewis
4
Birthdate: October 23, 1875
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Weymouth, Massachusetts, United States
Died: March 23, 1946
 4 
Ilya Prigogine
(Russian-Belgian Physical Chemist and Winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize for Chemistry)
Ilya Prigogine
3
Birthdate: January 25, 1917
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Died: May 28, 2003

Ilya Prigogine was a physical chemist remembered for his work on irreversibility, complex systems, and dissipative structures. A respected member of several scientific organizations, Prigogine was honored with the Francqui Prize in 1955. In 1976, he won the Rumford Medal for his work concerning irreversible thermodynamics. His work on irreversible thermodynamics earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977.

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 5 
Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin
5
Birthdate: October 9, 1858
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Serbia
Died: March 12, 1935

Physicist Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin developed what is now known as pupinization, a mechanism which extended the range of long-distance telephonic communication with the use of loading coils. Born to illiterate parents, he was a Serbian immigrant in the U.S. and later wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, From Immigrant to Inventor.

 6 
Harold Urey
(Chemist)
Harold Urey
3
Birthdate: April 29, 1893
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Walkerton, Indiana, United States
Died: January 5, 1981
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 7 
C.P. Snow
(Novelist)
C.P. Snow
3
Birthdate: October 15, 1905
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Leicester, England
Died: July 1, 1980
 8 
Peter Debye
(American-Dutch chemist)
Peter Debye
3
Birthdate: March 24, 1884
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Maastricht
Died: November 2, 1966
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 9 
Wilhelm Ostwald
3
Birthdate: September 2, 1853
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Riga
Died: April 4, 1932

Wilhelm Ostwald was a Baltic German philosopher and chemist who is credited with co-founding the field of physical chemistry. A polymath, Ostwald made significant contributions to philosophy, art, and politics, especially after his retirement from academic life. His contributions to the fields of reaction velocities, chemical equilibria, and catalysis earned him the 1909 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

 10 
John M. Deutch
(American government official)
John M. Deutch
9
Birthdate: July 27, 1938
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium
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 11 
Walther Nernst
(Physicist and Chemist)
Walther Nernst
3
Birthdate: June 25, 1864
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Wąbrzeźno
Died: November 18, 1941

Walther Nernst was a German chemist best remembered for his work in physical chemistry, thermodynamics, solid state physics, and electrochemistry. He is credited with formulating the Nernst heat theorem, which was in turn used in the formulation of the third law of thermodynamics. Walther Nernst received the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 1920.

 12 
Willard Libby
(Chemist)
Willard Libby
3
Birthdate: December 17, 1908
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Grand Valley, Colorado, United States
Died: September 8, 1980
 13 
Frederick Soddy
(Radiochemist)
Frederick Soddy
2
Birthdate: September 2, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Eastbourne
Died: September 22, 1956
 14 
Richard R. Ernst
2
Birthdate: August 14, 1933
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Winterthur, Switzerland
Died: June 4, 2021

Richard R. Ernst is a Swiss physical chemist whose work on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1991. Over the course of his career, Ernst has been honored with other awards, including the John Gamble Kirkwood Medal. In 2009, he became the subject of a documentary film titled Science Plus Dharma Equals Social Responsibility.

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 15 
James B. Conant
2
Birthdate: March 26, 1893
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: February 11, 1978
 16 
Arnold Orville Beckman
4
Birthdate: April 10, 1900
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Cullom
Died: May 18, 2004
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 17 
Richard C. Tolman
4
Birthdate: March 4, 1881
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: West Newton, Newton, Massachusetts, United States
Died: September 5, 1948
 18 
Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted
(Danish Physical Chemist Who Developed the 'Brønsted–Lowry Acid–Base Theory')
Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted
2
Birthdate: February 22, 1879
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Varde, Denmark
Died: December 17, 1947

Danish physical chemist Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted is best known for his discovery of an acid-base concept that was similar to but independent of Thomas Martin Lowry’s research. He also taught at Yale and was later elected to the Danish Parliament. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize 4 times.

 19 
Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar
(Father of research laboratories)
Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar
2
Birthdate: February 21, 1894
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Bhera
Died: January 1, 1955

Known as the father of research laboratories, Indian physical chemist Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar was a BHU professor. An avid poet, he also penned the kulgeet of the university. He was the first chairman of UGC, headed CSIR, and played a key role in setting up many R&D labs in India.

 20 
W.E. Moerner
(Physical Chemist)
W.E. Moerner
2
Birthdate: June 24, 1953
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Pleasanton, California, United States
 21 
Cyril Norman Hinshelwood
(Physical chemist)
Cyril Norman Hinshelwood
1
Birthdate: June 19, 1897
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England
Died: October 9, 1967
Theodore William Richards
1
Birthdate: January 31, 1868
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Germantown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died: April 2, 1928
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 23 
Johannes Fibiger
(Physician)
Johannes Fibiger
1
Birthdate: April 23, 1867
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Silkeborg, Denmark
Died: January 30, 1928
 24 
Paul Walden
(Chemist)
Paul Walden
1
Birthdate: July 26, 1863
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Cēsis
Died: January 22, 1957
 25 
Kazimierz Fajans
(American Physical Chemist Who Discovered the Chemical Element 'Protactinium')
Kazimierz Fajans
1
Birthdate: May 27, 1887
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Warsaw, Poland
Died: May 18, 1975

Kasimir Fajans was a physical chemist of Polish-Jewish origin. He was a pioneer in the science of radioactivity. He is credited with the discovery of the chemical element protactinium. He began his career working under physicist Ernest Rutherford. He later researched radioactivity and nuclear reactions. He became the head of the Institute of Physical Chemistry in 1932.  

 26 
Johan Gottlieb Gahn
1
Birthdate: August 19, 1745
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Voxna, Sweden
Died: December 8, 1818

Johan Gottlieb Gahn was a Swedish metallurgist and chemist best remembered for discovering manganese in 1774. He is also credited with introducing improvements in copper smelting. In 1784, Johan Gottlieb Gahn was inducted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

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Frederick Gardner Cottrell
1
Birthdate: January 10, 1877
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oakland, California, United States
Died: November 16, 1948
 28 
Max Volmer
(Chemist)
Max Volmer
1
Birthdate: May 3, 1885
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hilden
Died: June 3, 1965
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 29 
Carl Wagner
(Chemist)
Carl Wagner
0
Birthdate: May 25, 1901
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Leipzig, Germany
Died: December 10, 1977
 30 
George Cowan
(Chemist)
George Cowan
0
Birthdate: February 15, 1920
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 20, 2012
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 31 
Saul Dushman
(Chemist)
Saul Dushman
0
Birthdate: July 12, 1883
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Rostov, Russia
Died: July 7, 1954