Irving Langmuir

Irving Langmuir

Infobox Scientist
name = Irving Langmuir

image_size = 180px
birth_date = birth date|1881|1|31
birth_place = Brooklyn, New York
death_date = death date and age|1957|8|16|1881|1|31
death_place = Woods Hole, Massachusetts
nationality = United States
field = Chemistry
work_places =
alma_mater = Columbia University
University of Göttingen
doctoral_advisor = Walther Nernst
doctoral_students =
known_for =
prizes = Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1932
Perkin Medal 1928

Irving Langmuir (January 31, 1881 in Brooklyn, New YorkAugust 16, 1957 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts) was an American chemist and physicist. His most noted publication was the famous 1919 article "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules" in which, building on Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory, he outlined his "concentric theory of atomic structure". [Langmuir, I. (1919). " [ The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules] ", "Journal of the American Chemical Society". Vol. 41, No. 6, 868.] Langmuir became embroiled in a priority dispute with Lewis over this work; Langmuir's presentation skills were largely responsible for the popularization of the theory, although the credit for the theory itself belongs mostly to Lewis. [Patrick Coffey, "Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry", Oxford University Press, 2008: 134-146] While at G.E., from 1909-1950, Langmuir advanced several basic fields of physics and chemistry, invented the gas-filled incandescent lamp, the hydrogen welding technique, and was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work in surface chemistry. He was the first industrial chemist to become a Nobel laureate. The Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research near Socorro, New Mexico was named in his honor as was the American Chemical Society journal for Surface Science, called Langmuir.


Early life

Irving Langmuir was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 31, 1881. He was the third child of four of Charles Langmuir and Sadie, née Comings. During his childhood, Langmuir's parents encouraged him to carefully observe nature and to keep a detailed record of his various observations. When Irving was eleven, it was discovered that he had poor eyesight. When this problem was corrected, details that had previously eluded him were revealed. Because of this, his interest in nature and the various complications of nature was heightened.

During his childhood, Langmuir was greatly influenced by his older brother, Arthur Langmuir. Arthur was a research chemist who encouraged Irving to be curious about nature and how things work. Arthur helped Irving set up his first chemistry lab in the corner of his bedroom, and he was content to answer the myriad of questions that Irving would pose. Langmuir's hobbies included mountaineering, skiing, piloting his own plane, and classical music. In addition to his professional interest in the politics of atomic energy, he was deeply concerned about wilderness conservation.


Langmuir attended his early education at various schools and institutes in America and Paris (1892-1895). He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. in metallurgical engineering from the Columbia University School of Mines (the first mining and metallurgy school in the U.S., established,1864 and presently known as Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science) in 1903. He earned his Ph.D. degree in 1906 under Nobel laureate Walther Nernst in Göttingen, for research done using the "Nernst glower", an electric lamp invented by Nernst. His doctoral thesis was entitled “On the Partial Recombination of Dissolved Gases During Cooling.” He later did postgraduate work in chemistry. Langmuir then taught at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, until 1909, when he began working at the General Electric research laboratory (Schenectady, New York). In 1912, he married Marion Mersereau.


His initial contributions to science came from his study of light bulbs (a continuation of his Ph.D. work). His first major development was the improvement of the diffusion pump, which ultimately led to the invention of the high-vacuum tube. A year later, he and colleague Lewi Tonks discovered that the lifetime of a tungsten filament was greatly lengthened by filling the bulb with an inert gas, such as argon. He also discovered that twisting the filament into a tight coil improved its efficiency. These were important developments in the history of the incandescent light bulb. His work in surface chemistry began at this point, when he discovered that molecular hydrogen introduced into a tungsten-filament bulb dissociated into atomic hydrogen and formed a layer one atom thick on the surface of the bulb. [Coffey, Cathedrals of Science: 64-70]

His assistant in vacuum tube research was his cousin William Comings White. [Anderson, J.M., Power Engineering Review, IEEE, Volume 22, Issue 3, March 2002 Page(s):4 - 4]

In 1917, he published a paper on the chemistry of oil films [Irving Langmuir, "The Constitution and Fundamental Properties of Solids and Liquids. II," "Journal of the American Chemical Society" 39 (1917): 1848-1906.] that later became the basis for the award of the 1932 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Langmuir theorized that oils consisting of an aliphatic chain with a hydropilic end group (perhpas an alchohol or acid) were oriented as a film one molecule thick upon the surface of water, with the hydrophilic group down in the water and the hydrophilic chains clumped together on the surface. The thickness of the film could be easily determined from the known volume and area of the oil, which allowed investigation of the molecular configuration before spectroscopic techniques were available. [Coffey, Cathedrals of Science: 128-131] As he continued to study filaments in vacuum and different gas environments, he began to study the emission of charged particles from hot filaments (thermionic emission). He was one of the first scientists to work with plasmas and was the first to call these ionized gases by that name, because they reminded him of blood plasma. [ [ What is Plasma?] - Coalition for Plasma Science]

He introduced the concept of electron temperature and in 1924 invented the diagnostic method for measuring both temperature and density with an electrostatic probe, now called a Langmuir probe and commonly used in plasma physics. The current of a biased probe tip is measured as a function of bias voltage to determine the local plasma temperature and density. He also discovered atomic hydrogen, which he put to use by inventing the atomic hydrogen welding process; the first plasma weld ever made. Plasma welding has since been developed into gas tungsten arc welding.

Later years

Following World War I Langmuir contributed to atomic theory and the understanding of atomic structure by defining the modern concept of valence shells and isotopes.

He joined Katharine B. Blodgett to study thin films and surface absorption. They introduced the concept of a monolayer (a layer of material one molecule thick) and the two-dimensional physics which describe such a surface. In 1932 he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry "for his discoveries and investigations in surface chemistry." In 1938, Langmuir's scientific interests began to turn to atmospheric science and meteorology. One of his first ventures, although tangentially related, was a refutation of the claim of entomologist Charles H. T. Townsend that the deer botfly flew at speeds in excess of 800 miles per hour. Langmuir estimated the fly's true speed at 25 miles per hour.

After observing windrows of drifting seaweed in the Sargasso Sea he discovered a wind-driven surface circulation in the sea. It is now called the Langmuir circulation.During World War II, Langmuir worked on improving naval sonar for submarine detection, and later to develop protective smoke screens and methods for deicing aircraft wings. This research led him to theorize that the introduction of dry ice and iodide into a sufficiently moist cloud of low temperature could induce precipitation (cloud seeding); though in frequent practice, particularly in Australia and the People's Republic of China, the efficiency of this technique remains controversial today.

In 1953 Langmuir coined the term "pathological science", describing research conducted with accordance to the scientific method, but tainted by unconscious bias or subjective effects. This is in contrast to pseudoscience, which has no pretense of following the scientific method. In his original speech, he presented ESP and flying saucers as examples of pathological science; since then, the label has been applied to polywater and cold fusion.

After a short illness, he died of a heart attack in 1957. His obituary ran on the front page of the New York Times.

His house in Schenectady, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.


* Langmuir, US patent|1180159, "Incandescent Electric Lamp"
* Langmuir, US patent|1244217, "Electron-discharge apparatus and method of operating the same"
* Langmuir, US patent|1251388, "Method of and apparatus for controlling x-ray tubes"

ee also

Langmuir isotherm


Further reading

*Patrick Coffey, Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry, Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-532134-0

External links

* [ Langmuir Journal] ACS Chemistry Journal of Surfaces and Colloids
* " [ Langmuir, Irving] "
* " [ Irving Langmuir's Ball Lightning Tube] ". Ball Lightning Page. [ Science Hobbyist] .
* " [ Langmuir] shows Whitney one of his inventions, the Pliotron tube. ca. 1920.". [ Willis Rodney whitney] : the "Father of basic research in industry".
* [ "Pathological Science"] - noted lecture of 18 December 1953 at GE Labs
* [ Irving Langmuir - a pioneering industrial physical chemist]
* [ "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules" JACS, Vol. 41, No. 6, 868.]
* [ "The adsorption of gases on plane surfaces of glass, mica and platinum" JACS, Vol. 40, No. 9, 1361.]

Nobel Prize in Chemistry Laureates 1926-1950

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  • Irving Langmuir — Irving Langmuir. Irving Langmuir (Brooklyn, Nueva York, 31 de enero de 1881 – Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 16 de agosto de 1957) fue un físico y químico estadounidense conocido por su trabajo en distintos campos de la química y galardonado con el… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Irving Langmuir — (* 31. Januar 1881 in Brooklyn, New York; † 16. August 1957 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts) war ein US amerikanischer Chemiker und Physiker. Leben und Werk …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Irving Langmuir — (n. Brooklyn, Nueva York, 31 de enero de 1881 † Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 16 de agosto de 1957). Químico estadounidense conocido por su trabajo en distintos campos de la química. Langmuir estudió en las universidades de Columbia y …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Irving Langmuir — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Langmuir. Irving Langmuir Irving Langmuir (31 janvier 1881, New York …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Irving Langmuir — noun United States chemist who studied surface chemistry and developed the gas filled tungsten lamp and worked on high temperature electrical discharges (1881 1957) • Syn: ↑Langmuir • Instance Hypernyms: ↑chemist …   Useful english dictionary

  • Irving Langmuir — tungsten filament …   Inventors, Inventions

  • Irving Langmuir House — Infobox nrhp2 | name =Irving Langmuir House nrhp type = nhl nhl=yes locmapin = New York caption = Front elevation, 2008 location= 1176 Stratford Road, Schenectady, New York lat degrees = 42 | lat minutes = 48 | lat seconds = 58.44 | lat direction …   Wikipedia

  • Irving Langmuir Award — The Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics is awarded annually, in even years by the American Chemical Society and in odd years by the American Physical Society. The award is meant to recognize and encourage outstanding interdisciplinary… …   Wikipedia

  • Chemienobelpreis 1932: Irving Langmuir —   Der amerikanische Wissenschaftler erhielt den Nobelpreis für Chemie für seine Entdeckungen und Forschungen im Bereich der Oberflächenchemie.    Biografie   Irving Langmuir, * Brooklyn (New York) 31. 1. 1881, ✝ Falmouth (Massachusetts) 16. 8.… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Langmuir — is a scientific unit used in (material) surface science.It is also the name of:* Irving Langmuir, a Nobel Prize winning chemist and physicist, developer of the Langmuir probe; see also Irving Langmuir House. * Langmuir circulation, a wind driven… …   Wikipedia

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