Debye, Peter Joseph Wilhelm

Debye, Peter Joseph Wilhelm

(dēbī`), 1884–1966, American physicist, b. the Netherlands. He was professor at the universities of Zürich, Utrecht, Göttingen, Leipzig, and Berlin. In 1940 he came to the United States and served as professor of chemistry at Cornell (1940–52). For his work on the structure of molecules he received the 1936 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He is known also for his studies in the conductivity of electricity by salt solutions and in the heat capacity of solids.

Debye, Peter Joseph Wilhelm


Born Mar. 24, 1884, in Maastricht; died Nov. 2, 1966, in Ithaca, US. Physicist. Dutch by nationality.

Debye graduated from the Technische Hochschule in Aachen in 1905 and from the University of Munich in 1910. He was a professor in Zürich (1911 and 1920), Utrecht (1912), Göttingen (1914), Leipzig (1927), and Berlin (1935). He was director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics in Berlin (1935). From 1940 he was a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N. Y.

In 1912, Debye proposed a model of a solid, with the aid of which he proved that at low temperatures the specific heat of a crystal lattice is proportional to the cube of the absolute temperature; he also furnished a theory of heat conductivity of dielectric crystals. Using this model, he introduced the concept of the so-called Debye temperature. He also developed the dipole theory of dielectrics, based on the consideration of molecules as rigid dipoles. His method of observing X-ray interference in crystalline powders and liquids (the Debye-Scherrer method) found practical application in investigations of the structure of substances. Debye’s work includes a number of publications on the solid-state theory, atomic theory, and the theory of the conductivity of electrolytes. A unit used in measuring dipole moments was named a debye. A winner of a Nobel Prize (1936), he was a foreign member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1924).


In Russian translation:
Poliarnyie molekuly
. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.


Laue, M. von. “Zu Peter Debyes 70. Geburtstage.” Zeitschrift für Electrochemie, 1958, vol. 58, fasc. 3.
Farber, E. Nobel Prize Winners in Chemistry 1901–1961. London, 1963. Page 147.