Irving Langmuir Biography

Irving Langmuir was an American chemist who won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in surface chemistry. This biography of Irving Langmuir provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: January 31, 1881

Nationality: American

Famous: Chemists American Men

Died At Age: 76

Sun Sign: Aquarius

Born in: Brooklyn

Famous as: Chemist

Died on: August 16, 1957

place of death: Woods Hole

City: New York City

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: Columbia University, University of Göttingen, Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science, Chestnut Hill Academy

awards: 1932 - Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1918 - Hughes Medal
1920 - Rumford Prize

Franklin Medal
1937 - John Scott Legacy Medal and Premium
1928 - Perkin Medal
1944 - Faraday Medal
1950 - John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science

Continue Reading Below

Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist who won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in surface chemistry, becoming the first industrial chemist to receive this honor. Though his research was primarily focused on surface chemistry, he was also famous for his works in other scientific areas like atomic structure, surface phenomena in a vacuum, atmospheric science, and chemical reactions, thermal effects, and electrical discharges in gases. He is also credited to have popularized Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory through his well known article ‘The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules.’ Born as the son of inquisitive, nature loving parents, he was encouraged to be curious and observant from a young age. An intelligent boy, he performed well in school and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in metallurgical engineering (Met.E.) from the Columbia University School of Mines. He began working at the General Electric research laboratory after completing his doctorate and made many valuable contributions to the development of incandescent light bulbs. He also investigated thermionic emission and further research in the field ultimately led to the invention of a fast and efficient vacuum pump.

Childhood & Early Life
Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

  • Irving Langmuir began teaching at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, a job he held until 1909. Later that year he took up a position at the General Electric research laboratory (Schenectady, New York), where he eventually became Associate Director.
  • During this time, improving the early tungsten-filament incandescent light bulbs was one of the ongoing projects at the research lab. The glass envelops of these bulbs blackened over time and the tungsten filaments were relatively short-lived.
  • Langmuir began his investigations and discovered that the blackening of the bulbs resulted from the deposition of tungsten that evaporated from the hot filament. He came up with an improved design for the tungsten filament, which eventually led to a better and commercially successful incandescent bulb.
  • He also studied gases, and did significant research on hydrogen which led to the development of an atomic hydrogen welding torch. His investigation of thermionic emission—the ejection of electrons from a heated surface—resulted in the invention of a fast and efficient vacuum pump.
  • In the 1910s he published a series of important papers on the adsorption, condensation, and evaporation of gas molecules at solid surfaces and on the arrangements of molecules in the surface layers of liquids.
  • In 1917, he published a paper on the chemistry of oil films, and in 1919 an article ‘The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules’ in which he built upon Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory to outline his "concentric theory of atomic structure."
  • In 1924, he introduced the concept of electron temperature and invented what is now called a Langmuir probe, an electrostatic probe for measuring both temperature and density which is commonly used in plasma physics.
  • Working along with Katharine B. Blodgett, he studied thin films and surface adsorption. The duo introduced the concept of a monolayer and the two-dimensional physics which describe such a surface.
  • In the late 1930s, he shifted his focus to atmospheric science and meteorology. Following his observations of windrows of drifting seaweed in the Sargasso Sea, he discovered a wind-driven surface circulation in the sea which is now called the Langmuir circulation.
  • Having spent several years at GE, he retired in 1950 but continued as a consultant until his death.
Major Work
  • Irving Langmuir developed the first true vacuum triodes at the General Electric research laboratory in 1915. The earliest vacuum tubes strongly resembled incandescent light bulbs, and the development of the diffusion pump and improvements made by Langmuir led to the development of high-vacuum tubes.
Awards & Achievements
  • The Perkin Medal, considered the highest honor given in the US chemical industry, was bestowed upon him in 1928.
  • In 1932, Irving Langmuir was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his discoveries and investigations in surface chemistry".
  • In 1934, he became the recipient of the Franklin Medal, the most prestigious of the various awards presented by the Franklin Institute, for his contribution to chemistry.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He married Marion Mersereau in 1912. They couple adopted two children, Kenneth and Barbara.
  • He was an avid outdoorsman whose hobbies included hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, swimming, and boating. Always open to new experiences, he learned to pilot a plane at age 49.
  • He endured a brief illness before dying of a heart attack on August 16, 1957. He was 76.

See the events in life of Irving Langmuir in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Irving Langmuir Biography
- Editors,
Irving Langmuir

People Also Viewed

Wallace Carothers
Roald Hoffmann
Elias James Corey
Yuan T. Lee

Thomas Cech
James B. Sumner