(June 25, 1864 – November 18, 1941)

Like the inventor James Watt, Walther Nernst was an insightful researcher who sought practical applications for whatever concept he learned. His ingenuous tentacles engulfed various branches of mathematics, physics and chemistry. He was considered a chemist partly because he won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1920. However, his academic degrees were in physics and mathematics: with Friedrich Kohlrausch and Ludwig Boltzmann being his former professors. Even that Nobel Prize was for his formulation of what became the Nernst Heat Theorem, which played vital role in the development of the Third Law of Thermodynamics. Alongside adiabatic and solid-state physics experiments, Nernst explored photochemistry, electrochemistry and spectroscopy. In the process, he published plush treatises and mentored numerous students. His scope ramified the entire physical sciences, while his brilliance attracted joint ventures. For instance, his collaboration with Bechstein and Siemens enabled him to spearhead the design and development of the first electronic piano at the Physics Institute of Humboldt University Berlin, in the 1930s. This he accomplished by using vacuum tube amplifiers rather than conventional sounding board. He was a close friend of Albert Einstein and Max Planck with whom he corresponded regularly. In fact, it was Nernst and Planck who organized the inaugural Solvay Conference which Hendrik Lorentz chaired in 1911 (in Brussels, Belgium). Although he predeceased Max Planck, Max von Laue and Otto Hahn, those three colleagues were subsequently buried near him at Goettingen. Among the items dedicated to him are: the 24748 Nernst asteroid and the 116-kilometer-wide Nernst lunar crater.


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