Irving Langmuir

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Langmuir, Irving

(lăng`myo͞or), 1881–1957, American chemist, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. Associated (1909–50) with the research laboratory of the General Electric Company, he introduced atomic-hydrogen welding, invented a gas-filled tungsten lamp, and by his work on the high vacuum contributed greatly to the development of the radio vacuum tube. He extended the work of Gilbert Lewis on electron bonding, evolving the Lewis-Langmuir theory of atomic structure. In his research on surface tension and surface chemistry he developed a new technique (employing monolayers, i.e., layers of molecules one molecule thick) for the study of molecules, which has applications in research on microorganisms and toxins and in other studies contributing to advances in immunology. For his contributions in surface chemistry he received the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It was Langmuir who discovered that the introduction of particles of dry ice and iodide into a cloud of low temperature containing sufficient moisture in tiny droplets triggered a chain reaction producing rain or snow, depending on the condition of the weather.


See his works, ed. by C. G. Suits and H. E. Way (12 vol., 1960–62); study by A. Rosenfeld (1966).

Langmuir, Irving


Born Jan. 31, 1881, in Brooklyn, N. Y.; died Aug. 16, 1957, in Falmouth, Mass. American physicist and physicochemist. Graduated from the Columbia School of Mines (1903) and the University of Göttingen (1906).

Langmuir’s research (beginning in 1909) on electric discharges in gases and his study of thermionic emission were used in designing gas-filled incandescent lamps and electron tubes in radio engineering. In 1913, Langmuir proposed a formula for emission flux density. In 1924 he investigated the thermal ionization of gases and vapors by metal surfaces in contact with them. In 1911 he obtained atomic hydrogen and developed a process for welding metals in its flame. In 1916 he designed the first mercury condensation vacuum pump. By studying the adsorption of gases on solid surfaces (1909–16), Langmuir established the existence of the adsorption limit and proposed an equation for the adsorption isotherm (the Langmuir adsorption isotherm). He studied the structure of monomolecular adsorption layers and worked on theoretical problems of colloidal systems. In 1932 he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discoveries in surface phenomena.


Gas-filled Tungsten Filament Lamps and High-vacuum Electron Devices. New York, 1913.

Langmuir, Irving

(1881–1957) chemist; born in Brooklyn, N.Y. After teaching chemistry at the Stevens Institute of Technology (1906–09), he began work at the General Electric laboratory under Willis Whitney (1909). Langmuir's first major contribution was to show that a nitrogen-filled light bulb burned more brightly than a vacuum bulb. He went on to the study of vacuums, inventing the mercury pump (1916), which enabled the creation of very low pressures needed to produce vacuum tubes. At that time, he also began investigating molecular activity occurring in film surfaces that were just one molecule thick. In addition to his various laboratory discoveries, he made theoretical contributions with his explanation of the phenomenon of adsorption; he also developed concepts fundamental to the field of thermonuclear fusion and coined the term plasma to describe ionized gas. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry (1932) for his work in surface chemistry. That same year he was named associate director of the General Electric labs, where he remained until his retirement (1950). During World War II he worked for the U.S. military on problems of ice formation on aircraft wings; this led to his 1946 discovery of a method to produce rain by seeding clouds with dry ice and silver iodide.