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
(American Physical Chemist Best Known for His Discovery of the Covalent Bond)
Gilbert N. Lewis
4
Birthdate: October 23, 1875
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Weymouth, Massachusetts, United States
Died: March 23, 1946

Gilbert N. Lewis was an American physical chemist best remembered for his detection of the covalent bond. He made immense contributions to photochemistry, chemical thermodynamics, and isotope separation. Gilbert N. Lewis received 41 nominations for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but never won the award. However, he influenced and mentored numerous Nobel laureates, including Harold Urey and William F. Giauque.

 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
(Serbian Physicist Who Had Numerous Patents to His Name)
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
(American Physical Chemist Who Won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 for the Discovery of Deuterium)
Harold Urey
3
Birthdate: April 29, 1893
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Walkerton, Indiana, United States
Died: January 5, 1981

Harold Urey was an American physical chemist best remembered for his pioneering work on isotopes. He is credited with the discovery of deuterium, for which he received the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934. Harold Urey also played a key role in the development of the infamous atom bomb.

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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
(Dutch-American Physical Chemist and Physicist Who Won the 1936 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)
Peter Debye
3
Birthdate: March 24, 1884
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Maastricht
Died: November 2, 1966

Peter Debye was a Dutch-American physical chemist and physicist. He is best remembered for winning the 1936 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was also the recipient of the Rumford Medal, Franklin Medal, and Priestley Medal. In 1965, Peter Debye was honored with the National Medal of Science. In 1982, he was inducted into the Alpha Chi Sigma Hall of Fame.

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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 
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.

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 11 
Willard Libby
(American Physical Chemist Who Played an Important Role in the Development of Radiocarbon Dating)
Willard Libby
3
Birthdate: December 17, 1908
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Grand Valley, Colorado, United States
Died: September 8, 1980

Willard Libby was an American physical chemist best remembered for his role in the development of radiocarbon dating in 1949. The process revolutionized palaeontology and archaeology. Libby's contributions during the development of this process earned him the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Willard Libby was also the recipient of the Elliott Cresson Medal, Willard Gibbs Award, and Albert Einstein Award.

 12 
Frederick Soddy
(Radiochemist)
Frederick Soddy
2
Birthdate: September 2, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Eastbourne
Died: September 22, 1956
 13 
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.

 14 
Arnold Orville Beckman
(American Chemist and Inventor Who Invented the pH Meter)
Arnold Orville Beckman
4
Birthdate: April 10, 1900
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Cullom
Died: May 18, 2004

Arnold Orville Beckman was an American inventor, chemist, philanthropist, and investor. He is credited with inventing the pH meter, which revolutionized the study of biology and chemistry. Based on this invention, Beckman later established a company named Beckman Instruments. Arnold Orville Beckman is also credited with inventing the DU spectrophotometer. In 1988, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology.

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 15 
Richard C. Tolman
(American Physical Chemist and Mathematical Physicist Who Made Immense Contribution to Statistical Mechanics)
Richard C. Tolman
4
Birthdate: March 4, 1881
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: West Newton, Newton, Massachusetts, United States
Died: September 5, 1948

Richard C. Tolman was an American physical chemist and mathematical physicist. He is best remembered for making immense contributions to statistical mechanics. Tolman also made significant contributions to theoretical cosmology. Richard C. Tolman is also remembered for his association with the California Institute of Technology, where he worked as a professor of mathematical physics and physical chemistry.

 16 
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.

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 17 
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.

 18 
W.E. Moerner
(Nobel Prize-Winning American Chemist)
W.E. Moerner
4
Birthdate: June 24, 1953
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Pleasanton, California, United States

Nobel Prize-winning American chemist W.E. Moerner is best known for developing super-resolved fluorescence microscopy and for detecting a single molecule in condensed phases. He has been associated with prestigious institutes such as UC San Diego and Stanford University, and has also been a visiting professor at Harvard University.

 19 
Cyril Norman Hinshelwood
(Physical chemist)
Cyril Norman Hinshelwood
1
Birthdate: June 19, 1897
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England
Died: October 9, 1967
 20 
Theodore William Richards
(The First American Scientist to Receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry)
Theodore William Richards
1
Birthdate: January 31, 1868
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Germantown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died: April 2, 1928

Theodore William Richards was an American chemist. In 1914, he became the first scientist from the US to be honored with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Also an inventor, Richards is credited with inventing the nephelometer as well as the adiabatic calorimeter. Over the course of his career, Theodore William Richards won several prestigious awards, including the Willard Gibbs Award.

 21 
Paul Walden
(Russian, Latvian and German Chemist Who is Known for his Work in Stereochemistry)
Paul Walden
1
Birthdate: July 26, 1863
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Cēsis
Died: January 22, 1957

Paul Walden was a chemist best remembered for his work in stereochemistry. He is credited with inventing the stereochemical reaction, which came to be known as Walden inversion. Over the course of his illustrious career, Paul Walden was honored with several prestigious awards, including the Gmelin-Beilstein Medal in 1954.

 22 
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.  

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 23 
Max Volmer
(German Physical Chemist Who Made Important Contributions in Electrochemistry)
Max Volmer
1
Birthdate: May 3, 1885
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hilden
Died: June 3, 1965

Max Volmer was a German physical chemist best remembered for making prominent contributions in the field of electrochemistry. He is also remembered for co-developing the Butler–Volmer equation, one of the most basic relationships in electrochemical kinetics. Max Volmer also worked at the Humboldt University of Berlin as a professor.

 24 
Frederick Gardner Cottrell
(Inventor of Electrostatic Precipitator)
Frederick Gardner Cottrell
1
Birthdate: January 10, 1877
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oakland, California, United States
Died: November 16, 1948

Frederick Gardner Cottrell was an American inventor, physical chemist, and philanthropist. Cottrell is best remembered for inventing the electrostatic precipitator. He is also remembered for founding the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. Frederick Gardner Cottrell won several prestigious awards, such as the Willard Gibbs Medal. In 1992, he was made an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

 25 
Carl Wagner
(German Physical Chemist Who is Regarded as the Father of Solid State Chemistry)
Carl Wagner
0
Birthdate: May 25, 1901
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Leipzig, Germany
Died: December 10, 1977

Carl Wagner was a German physical chemist best remembered for his pioneering work on materials chemistry. His work on counter diffusion of ions, defect chemistry, and oxidation rate theory led to a greater understanding of the reactions at the atomic level. Regarded as the father of solid state chemistry, Carl Wagner received several awards including the Willis R. Whitney Award.

 26 
George Cowan
(American Physical Chemist Who Played an Important Role in the 'Manhattan Project')
George Cowan
0
Birthdate: February 15, 1920
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 20, 2012

George Cowan was an American businessman, physical chemist, and philanthropist. He played an important role in the Manhattan Project, where his knowledge on nuclear physics and chemistry was considered invaluable. After the end of the war, George Cowan became a prominent member of a group, which would later found the Santa Fe Opera.

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 27 
Saul Dushman
(American Chemist Whose Research on Thermionic Emission is Remembered in the Form of the 'Richardson-Dushman Equation')
Saul Dushman
0
Birthdate: July 12, 1883
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Rostov, Russia
Died: July 7, 1954

Saul Dushman was a Russian-American physical chemist best remembered for his work in General Electric Company, where he became part of the Research Laboratory in 1912. His main research interests were electromotive force, quantum mechanics, electron emission, atomic structure, high vacuum, and unimolecular force. Saul Dushman is also credited with authoring several science textbooks.