Irving Langmuir


Irving Langmuir
(1881 - 1957)


American physical chemist whose studies of molecular films on solid and liquid surfaces opened new fields in colloid research and biochemistry and won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1932.
After studying metallurgical engineering at Columbia University, Langmuir worked under Walther H. Nernst, a pioneer physical chemist, at the University of Gottingen, Germany, where he took his Ph.D. in 1906. In the United States he conducted research for the General Electric Company, Schenectady, N.Y. (1909-50).

Investigating electrical discharges in gases, electron emission, and the high-temperature surface chemistry of tungsten, Langmuir greatly extended the life of the tungsten-filament light bulb. He also developed a vacuum pump, high-vacuum tubes used in radio broadcasting, and an atomic hydrogen blowtorch capable of producing temperatures greater than 3,000 C (6,000 F).

Working independently of the American atomic chemist Gilbert N. Lewis, Langmuir formulated theories of atomic structure and chemical bond formation and introduced the term covalence. In 1946 he and his associates began to explore the possibility of inducing rainfall by seeding clouds with silver iodide and solidified carbon dioxide.


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