Chemistry: Peter Debye

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  • Topic: Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg
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Peter Debye and his Contributions to Chemistry

Dutch physicist Peter Debye studied under Arnold Sommerfeld, and developed several approaches using induced dipole moments and x-ray diffraction to study molecular structures. In 1912 he exhibited the Debye equation for dipole moments, a method to determine bond angles and the degree of polarity of covalent bonds, which allows the spatial configuration of molecules to be deduced with far greater accuracy than had previously been possible. In the same year he improved Albert Einstein's theory of specific heat, by factoring low-frequency phonons into Einstein's procedure. In 1915, he showed how temperature can affect x-ray diffraction patterns in crystalline solids. In 1923, working with Erich Hückel, he introduced the Debye-Hückel equation, an essential discovery in the modern perception of electrolytic solutions and the basis for the general theory of strong electrolytes. Though he was actually a physicist by training and career, he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1936, for "his contributions to the study of molecular structure through his investigations on dipole moments and on the diffraction of x-rays and electrons in gases.”

Petrus Josephus Wilhelmus Debye was born March 24th 1884 in Maastricht, Netherlands. He began his education by attending the elementary and secondary schools in his hometown. Since then, his thirst for knowledge was never quite quenched. He went on to study at the Aachen Institute of Technology where he studied under Arnold Sommerfeld. He earned a degree in electrical technology in 1905 which led to him becoming an assistant in technical mechanics at the institute. After two years of working there he acquired a similar position in theoretical physics at the Munich University where he obtained his PhD in physics in 1908 and qualified as a university lecturer in 1910. The following year, Debye became Professor of Theoretical Physics at Zurich...
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