Physical chemist whose investigations of dipole moments, X rays, and
light scattering in gases brought him the 1936 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Debye was a dominant figure in physical chemistry and chemical physics during the first half of the 20th century. Debye's first important research, his dipole moment studies, advanced knowledge of the arrangement of atoms in molecules and of the distances between the atoms. In 1916 he showed that solid substances could be used in powdered form for X-ray study of their crystal structures, thus eliminating the difficult step of first preparing good crystals.
Two of his most significant achievements came in 1923 when he and Erich
Huckel extended Svante Arrhenius' theory of the dissociation of the
positively and negatively charged atoms (ions) of salts in solution,
proving that the ionization is complete, not partial. That same year
he described the Compton effect, which the American physicist Arthur
Holly Compton had discovered shortly before.
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