J Willard Gibbs

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Gibbs, J. (Josiah) Willard

(1839–1903) mathematical physicist; born in New Haven, Conn. He was the seventh generation of a family of scholars and educators, and the son of Yale divinity professor Josiah Willard Gibbs. After receiving his Ph.D. from Yale (1863), he taught Latin and natural philosophy there for three years. He then studied mathematics and physics in Paris (1866–67), Berlin (1867–88), and Heidelberg (1868–69). Returning to New Haven, he became a professor at Yale (1871–1903). In the 1870s, Gibbs published influential papers on the geometrical analysis of the thermodynamics of fluids and surfaces, which clarified the concept of entropy. His classic work, On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances (1876, 1878), integrated chemical, physical, electrical, and electromagnetic phenomena into a cohesive system, and introduced the "phase rule" that formed the basis for modern physical chemistry. He developed his system of vector algebra (1880–84), which, he felt, superseded the older system of quaternions. From 1882 to 1889 he published numerous articles on the electric properties of light. A quiet, dignified person who wrote predominantly from memory, he was respected by students and colleagues, and was internationally recognized for his elegant contributions to mathematics and physical science.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.