Onsager, Lars

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Onsager, Lars,

1903–76, American physical chemist, b. Oslo, Ph.D. Yale, 1935. Onsager taught at Brown Univ. from 1928 to 1933 and was on the faculty at Yale from 1933 until his retirement in 1972. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for his work on the thermodynamics of irreversible chemical processes. Onsager demonstrated that reciprocal relations exist between such variables as temperature and pressure in irreversible chemical processes, and the mathematical expressions he derived to describe this behavior enabled a complete theoretical description of such processes. The Onsager reciprocal relations are now known collectively as the fourth law of thermodynamics.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Onsager, Lars


Born Nov. 27, 1903, in Oslo. Theoretical physicist and physical chemist; of Norwegian nationality.

Onsager graduated from the Norwegian Technical Institute in Trondheim in 1925. Since 1928 he has lived and worked in the USA. He became a professor at Yale University in 1940. His main works deal with theories of irreversible processes, phase transitions, and electrolytes. In 1926 he derived the Onsager equation of electrical conductivity. In 1931, Onsager discovered the principle of the symmetry of kinetic coefficients, which became the basis of the phenomenological thermodynamics of nonequilibrium processes. In 1942 he derived an exact solution of the two-dimensional Ising problem (published 1944). The solution predicts a logarithmic dependence of the specific heat on the temperature near the critical point. Onsager also proposed a theory of quantumized vortices in superfluid helium. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1968.


“Reciprocal Relations in Irreversible Processes.” Physical Review, 1931,
vol. 38, no. 12, p. 2265. “Crystal Statistics.” Ibid., 1944, vol. 65, nos. 3–4.
“Statistical Hydrodynamics.” Nuovo Cimento, 1949. Supplement to vol. 6, series 9, no. 2.
“The Electric Properties of Ice.” In Electrolytes. Oxford, 1962. (With M. Dupuis.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Onsager, Lars

(1903–76) chemist; born in Oslo, Norway. He came to the U.S.A. about 1928 when he was appointed associate in chemistry at Johns Hopkins; he then taught at Brown (1929–33) before becoming affiliated with Yale (1934–72). He demonstrated mathematically (1931) how simultaneous chemical reactions influence each other in ways now called Onsager's reciprocal relations. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry (1968).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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