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Boltzmann, Ludwig Eduard

theory law kinetic system

[bolts mahn] (1844–1906) Austrian physicist: established classical statistical physics; and related kinetic theory to thermodynamics.

Boltzmann grew up in Wels and Linz, where his father was a tax officer. He obtained his doctorate at Vienna in 1866 and held professorships during his career at Graz, Vienna, Munich and Leipzig.

Theoretical physics in the 1860s was undergoing great changes following the establishment by and of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the kinetic theory of gases by Clausius and and the theory of electromagnetism by Maxwell. Boltzmann extended the kinetic theory, developing the law of equipartition of particle energy between degrees of freedom and also calculating how many particles have a given energy, the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution.

Furthermore, Boltzmann used the mechanics and statistics of large numbers of particles to give definitions of heat and entropy (a measure of the disorder of a system). He showed that the entropy S of a system is related to the probability W (the number of ‘microstates’ or ways in which the system can be constructed) by S = k log W (Boltzmann’s equation), where k is Boltzmann’s constant ( k = 1.38 × 10 –23 JK –1 ). Other contributions were a new derivation of law of black-body radiation; and his work on electromagnetism.

Throughout his life Boltzmann was prone to depression and this was intensified by attacks from the logical positivist philosophers in Vienna, who opposed atomistic theories of phenomena. However, he attracted students who became distinguished and had both many friends and honours. Depressed by lack of acceptance of his work, Boltzmann killed himself while on holiday on the Adriatic coast.

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