Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald

Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald

German chemist who almost single-handedly organized physical chemistry into a nearly independent branch of chemistry. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1909 for his work on catalysis, chemical equilibrium, and reaction velocities.
Ostwald took his doctorate from the University of Dorpat (now Tartu State University, Tartu, Estonia) in 1878 and taught at Riga before going to the University of Leipzig (1887-1906). He was quick to espouse the theories of Svante Arrhenius and Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff, with whom he placed physical chemistry on a firm basis. It was probably as author and editor, however, that he most helped to advance the science. He wrote Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Chemie, 2 vol. (1885-87; "Textbook of General Chemistry") and other influential texts and was chiefly responsible for the founding (1887) of the Zeitschrift fur physikalische Chemie ("Journal of Physical Chemistry"), long the most influential publication in the field. In 1889 he began issuing Klassiker der exakten Wissenschaften ("Classics of Exact Science"), an important series of reprints of significant papers in physics and chemistry that had appeared up to that time.

He began his laboratory researches with studies on the dynamics of reactions in solution and then turned to electrochemistry. In 1894 he gave the first modern definition of a catalyst and turned his attention to catalytic reactions. His process for the conversion of ammonia to nitric acid, patented in 1902, became of great industrial importance. Following his resignation from Leipzig, he wrote on the philosophy of science and, in the book Grosse Manner (1909; "Great Men"), he investigated the psychological causes of scientific productivity.

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