Percy Williams Bridgman Biography


Birthday: April 21, 1882 (Taurus)

Born In: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Percy Williams Bridgman was an American physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics for developing new techniques in the field of high-pressure physics and for his work on the effect of pressure on solids, liquids and gases. He was the designer of self-tightening joints which made it possible for scientist to carry out experiments where pressures up to 420,000 kilograms per square centimeter could be exerted with a special ‘seal’ that he had developed. Earlier scientists were able to get a maximum of only 3,000 kilograms per square centimeter of pressure during their experiments. He was the first person to enunciate the ‘theory of operationalism’ which says that all scientific concepts could be explained by a set of operations. He had a fertile imagination, intuition and a capacity for analyzing mechanical details which helped him use his dexterity in developing scientific equipment of various kinds. He was never influenced by any external means such as the demands of a society, administrative work or personal weaknesses during his experimental work throughout his career. He helped develop sound-detection systems for anti-submarine warfare during the First World War. He worked on the Manhattan Project on the compressibility of uranium and plutonium during the Second World War.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Olive Ware

father: Raymond Landon Bridgman

mother: Mary ‘Maria’ Ann Williams

children: Jane Ware, Robert Ware

Physicists American Men

Died on: August 20, 1961

place of death: Randolph, New Hampshire, United States

U.S. State: Massachusetts

Cause of Death: Suicide

More Facts

education: Harvard University

awards: Rumford Prize (1917)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1932)
Comstock Prize in Physics (1933)

Nobel Prize in Physics (1946)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1949)
Bingham Medal (1951)

Childhood & Early Life
Percy Williams Bridgman was born in Cambridge, Massachsetts, on April 21, 1882. He was the only child of a newspaper reporter, Raymond Landon Bridgman and Mary ‘Maria’ Ann Williams who was an author of books on public affairs.
His family was highly religious and his father wanted him to join the church but he was more interested in studying science and not religion.
After his family moved to Newton from Cambridge he did his schooling from the ‘Newton North High School’ in Newton, Massachusetts and graduated from there in the year 1900.
He joined the ‘Harvard University’ in 1900 and received his BA degree in physics and mathematics in 1904.
He did his MA in physics from the ‘Harvard University’ in 1905 and received his PhD from the ‘Harvard University’ in 1908.
He worked as a research fellow from 1908 to 1910 at the Harvard University.
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Percy Williams Bridgman started his career as a lecturer of physics at the ‘Harvard University’ in 1910
He became an assistant professor in 1913 and a full professor in 1919.
He was made a ‘Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy’ in 1926 by the ‘Harvard University’.
In 1927 he suggested the ‘theory of operationalism’ with which he tried to clear the ambiguities and obscurities found to be inherent in the definition of scientific ideas. He was one of the 11 signatories of the ‘Russell-Einstein Manifesto’.
He became the President of the ‘American Physical Society’ in 1942.
In 1950 Bridgman was made a ‘Higgins Professor of Physics’ at the ‘Harvard University’ and served in this post till 1954.
In 1955 he served as a consultant to ‘General Electric Company’ where high-pressure techniques were being tried out by scientists to convert graphite into synthetic diamonds. Despite repeated trials he was unsuccessful in synthesizing diamonds though the extensions of his technique were used to synthesize many minerals later.
He taught physics at the ‘Harvard University’ till his retirement in 1954.
Major Works
He wrote a number of books including ‘Dimensional Analysis’, ‘The Logic of Modern Physics’, ‘The Physics of High Pressure’, ‘The Thermodynamics of Electrical Phenomenon in Metals’, ‘The Nature of Physical Theory’, ‘The Intelligent Individual and Society’ and ‘The Nature of Thermodynamics’.
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He published his memoirs ‘Reflections of a Physicist’ in 1950 and the ‘Collected Experimental Papers’ were published in 7 volumes in 1964.
Awards & Achievements
Percy Williams Bridgman received the ‘Rumford Prize’ from the ‘Academy of Arts and Sciences’ in 1917.
He was inducted into the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ in 1918.
He received the ‘Elliott Cresson Medal’ from the ‘Franklin Institute’ in 1932, the ‘Comstock Prize’ from the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ in 1933, the ‘Hendrik Willem Bakhuis Roozeboom Medal’ from the ‘Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands’ in 1933 and the ‘Research Corporation Award’ from the ‘New York Award’ in 1937.
He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1946 and the ‘Bingham Medal from the ‘Society of Rheology’ in 1951.
He received an honorary D.Sc. degree from the ‘Stevens Institute’ in 1934, from the ‘Brooklyn Polytechnic’ in 1941, from the ‘Princeton University’ in 1950, from the ‘University of Paris’ in 1950 and from ‘Yale University’ in 1951.
He was made a fellow of the ‘American Association for the Advancement of Science’, the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’, the ‘American Philosophical Society’ and the ‘National Academy of Sciences’.
He was made a ‘Foreign Fellow’ of the ‘Indian Academy of Sciences’, a ‘Foreign Member’ of the ‘Royal Society’ and an ‘Honorary Fellow’ of the ‘Physical Society’ in London. He also became a member of the ‘Institute of Physics’ and the ‘Washington Academy of Sciences’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Olive Ware in 1912 and had a daughter, Jane Ware and a son, Robert Ware from the marriage.
Percy Williams Bridgman committed suicide by shooting himself at his home in Randolph, New Hampshire on August 20, 1961.
He suffered from metastatic cancer for a long time which prompted him to take his own life. The suicide note he left behind had the words ‘It isn’t decent for a society to make a man do this thing himself. Probably this is the last day I will be able to do it myself’.
The ‘Percy W. Bridgman House’ in Massachusetts was designated as ‘National Historic Landmark’ by the US government in 1975.
The ‘Percy Williams Bridgman Award’ was established in his memory by the ‘International Association for the Advancement of High-Pressure Science and Technology’ in 1977.
A lunar crater has been named after him as ‘Bridgman’ which has a diameter of 80 kilometers.
In 2014 the ‘Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification (CNMNC)’ named the earth’s most abundantly available mineral (Mg,Fe)SiO3 as ‘Bridgmanite’.
Percy Williams Bridgman was a perfectionist in every way, was fond of music and loved chess, handball, mountain-climbing, photography and gardening.
He was generous and a man of integrity and was highly admired by his colleagues and other members of the scientific world.

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