Walther Nernst

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German scientist Walther Nernst won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1920 for his work in the field of thermochemistry. At first, he wanted to be a poet, but he changed his mind and now wants to be a physicist. In the end, he was one of the people who helped start modern physical chemistry. While he was still in his 20s, he came up with the Nernst Equation, which tried to link thermodynamics and electrochemical solution theory. At the same time, he wrote a textbook on physical chemistry. In it, he talked about how important both physics and chemistry are for understanding how chemical processes work. He also gave Avogadro’s law and thermodynamics the same amount of attention. In fact, his work on thermodynamics not only made him famous, but also won him the prestigious Nobel Prize. At the same time, he came up with a number of things that could be used in industry. For example, he spent almost a decade trying to improve incandescent lamps before making the Nernst Lamp. Even though he was one of the people who signed the “Manifesto of Ninety-Three” and helped Germany win World War I, he was completely against what Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party stood for. So, at the start of the 1930s, he was shunned by everyone, and after he quit his job, he lived a quiet life.

Early years and childhood

Walther Hermann Nernst was born in Wbrzeno, Poland, on June 25, 1864. Back then, the town was called Briesen and was in West Prussia. Gustav Nernst, Walther’s father, was a judge in a small town. Ottilie (Nerger) Nernst was the name of his mother. He was the fourth child his parents had.

Walther started school at a gym in Graudenz, which is now called Grudziadz. Since gym classes put more emphasis on the humanities, young Walther became more interested in poetry, literature, and drama. He even thought about becoming a poet at some point. But after he finished school in 1881, he had a new goal.

He went to school in Zürich, Berlin, and Graz, where he studied physics and math. He ended up majoring in physics and getting his PhD at the University of Würzburg. Here, he began to study how magnetism and heat affect the way electricity flows. He got his PhD in 1887.

Walther Nernst’s Career

Walther Nernst worked with German physical chemist Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald at the University of Leipzig after he got his PhD. Here, he started to work on the diffusion coefficient of electrolytes in solutions that had no end, which led to the Nernst Equation. He added to the work and used it as the basis for his Habilitation thesis, which he finished in 1889.

In 1891, the University of Gottingen gave Nernst a job as an associate professor. He also started writing a textbook on physical chemistry around this time. The book came out in 1893 and was called “Theoretical Chemistry from the Point of View of Avogadro’s Rule and Thermodynamics.”

The book was so well-liked that it went through 15 printings in 33 years. In 1893, the Arrhenius theory of ionization made him want to work on it, so he did. He came up with a theory about how ionic compounds break down in water.

In 1894, many people made offers to Nernst. He was asked to join the Physics Chairs at the Universities of Munich and Berlin, as well as the Physical Chemistry Chair at the University of Gottingen. Gottingen was his choice. There, he started the Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry and became its Director.

Soon after, he started a number of big projects in different areas of science. In addition to his research, He also worked on improving the existing incandescent lamp in the fields of chemistry and electrology. In 1897, he made the Nernst Lamp. He then sold the technology to businesses and was able to support himself.

In 1905, Nernst was named Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Berlin and Director of the university’s Second Chemical Institute. He was also made a member of the Prussian Academy of Science for life.

Up until now, Nernst had mostly used theories made by his predecessors to try to solve problems that already existed. Now, he started to look into new things. One of them was the study of the thermodynamics of chemical reactions.

Nernst showed his “New Heat Theorem” in December 1905. It helped figure out how temperature and the state of equilibrium affected different chemical reactions. The Third Law of Thermodynamics was made from this theorem in the future.

When the First World War started in 1914, Nernst sided with Germany. He was one of the ninety-three famous German scientists who signed the “Manifesto of Ninety-Three.” He also worked for the Imperial Army as the Staff Scientific Advisor and helped to make chemical weapons.

After the war, he went back to school and started studying new things, such as photochemistry. In 1918, he came up with what he called the “Atomic Chain Reaction Theory.” It explained why a mixture of hydrogen and chlorine gases tends to blow up when exposed to light.

In 1922, Nernst quit his job at the University of Berlin to become the head of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt. He wanted to bring the organization back to life and make it one of the best places for science.

But he couldn’t do what he set out to do because there were no grants for such projects in Germany after World War II. So, in 1924, he went back to the University of Berlin as a Professor of Physics and was also given the job of Director of the university’s new Physikalisch-Chemisches Institute.

Nernst was against what Hitler was doing. His daughters also got married to Jews. As the Nazis rose to power and anti-Semitism spread in Germany, he became more and more of an outsider. Nernst quit his job in 1933 and moved to a remote area to live alone.

Works of note

The “Third Law of Thermodynamics” that Walther Nernst found is what he is best known for. It was first called the “New Heat Theorem,” and it explained how things behave as they get closer to absolute zero.

Even though he gave his paper for the first time in December 1905, he worked on it until 1912. In the end, he proved that “absolute zero could only be reached by taking an infinite number of steps.” It meant that you could get close to absolute zero, but you could never get there.

He was also a great teacher and had taught many famous scientists, such as Sir Frances Simon, Richard Abegg, Irving Langmuir, Leonid Andrussow, Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer, Frederick Lindemann, William Duane, etc.

Awards & Achievements

In 1920, Walther Nernst was given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in thermochemistry. In 1921, he won the prize.
In 1928, the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, U.S.A., gave him the Franklin Medal for his work in chemistry.

Personal History and Legacies

Walther Nernst got married to Emma Lohmeyer in the year 1892. Two boys and three girls made up the family of five. During the First World War, both of his sons, Gustav and Rudolf Nernst died in battle.
Hildegard Cahn, Angela Hahn, and Edith Von Zanthier, his daughters, all married Jews. One reason he had to quit his job in 1933 was because of this.

He died in Zibelle, Germany, on November 18, 1941. He is buried in Gottingen, near the graves of Max Planck, Otto Hahn, and Max von Laue, who were also scientists.

In addition to the Third Law of Thermodynamics, he is known for the Nernst equation, the Nernst effect, the Nernst potential, the Nernst-Planck equation, the Nernst lamp, the Nernst glower, and many other things.

Estimated Net worth

Walther is one of the best-known and wealthiest chemists. Based on what we know and what Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider say, Walther Nernst is worth about $2 million.


Nernst had also made an electric piano in 1930. In it, he put radio amplifiers where the sounding board used to be. It worked the same way that electric guitars do today, but it didn’t sell very well.

Albert Einstein’s success was helped by Nernst in a big way. Einstein was a little-known scientist in Zurich who was working on quantum mechanics of specific heats at cryogenic temperatures while Nernst was working on the Third Law. Nernst thought his papers were so good that he went all the way to Zurich to meet him.

Scientists started to take Einstein more seriously after he came to visit. Nernst also helped him find a good job in Berlin. It freed Einstein from having to teach, so he could try new things. Nernst also got him a grant and often gave money from his own pocket.