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Debye, Peter (Joseph William)

solutions electrolytes moments dipole

[duh biy ] (1884–1966) Dutch–US chemical physicist; developed ideas on dipole moments, and on solutions of electrolytes.

Debye was educated in the Netherlands and in Germany, and then held posts in theoretical physics in several European countries in rapid succession. Despite these frequent moves, he produced in 1911–16 a theory of the change in specific heat capacity with temperature, a method for X-ray diffraction analysis using powdered crystals (with P Sherrer) and the idea of permanent molecular electric dipole moments. He showed how these moments can be measured and how they can be used to find the shape of simple molecules; eg the molecule of water, H–O–H, is not linear but bent. He was also able to show that the benzene ring is flat. The unit of electric dipole moment, the debye (D), is the electronic charge ( e ) × 10 –10 m. His work with led in 1923 to the Debye–Hückel theory of electrolytes, which deals with the behaviour of strong solutions of electrolytes by taking account of the mutual interaction of the charged ions (previous theories had dealt only with very dilute solutions). In 1934 he moved to Berlin and in 1940 to the USA, where he was professor of chemistry at Cornell until 1950. His work on light scattering in solutions, on polymers and on magnetism is also important. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1936, and in 1939 had the strange experience of seeing a bust of himself unveiled in his native city of Maastricht.

Decisions and Life Choices [next] [back] Debo, Angie (1890–1988) - Western History

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