Walther Nernst

University of Berlin │ Berlin, Germany
For contributions to exact methods of thermodynamics to electro- and thermochemistry.

Born in Briesen, West Prussia, in 1864, Walther Hermann Nernst attended the Universities of Zurich, Berlin, and Graz, studying physics and mathematics, before proceeding to Wurzburg, where he graduated in 1887. In 1894, he received the Physical Chemistry Chair in Gottingen. In Gottingen, he founded the Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry and became its Director. In 1905, he was appointed Professor of Chemistry, later of Physics, in the University of Berlin, becoming Director of the newly founded "Physikalisch-Chemisches Institut" in 1924. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1933.

Nernst applied the principles of thermodynamics to the electric cell. He constructed the Nernst Equation, which related the voltage of a cell to its properties. He explained why compounds ionize easily in water. The explanation, called the Nernst-Thomson rule, holds that it is difficult for charged ions to attract each other through insulating water molecules, so they dissociate. Nernst was awarded the 1920 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery of the Third Law of Thermodynamics, which states that entropy approaches a minimum (which can be arbitrarily set to zero) as temperature approaches absolute zero.

Information as of 1928