Ostwald, Wilhelm Friedrich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ostwald, Wilhelm Friedrich


Born Sept. 2, 1853, in Riga; died Apr. 4, 1932, in Leipzig. German physical chemist and idealist philosopher. Corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1896).

Ostwald graduated from the University of Dorpat (now Tartu) in 1875. He was a professor at the Riga Polytechnical Institute from 1882 to 1887 and at the University of Leipzig from 1887 to 1906.

Ostwald’s scientific work was primarily devoted to the development of the theory of electrolytic dissociation. In 1884, he discovered the relation between electrical conductivity of acidic solutions and the extent of their electrolytic dissociation. In 1887 and 1888 he developed a method for determining the basicity of acids based on the electrical conductivity of acidic solutions. In 1888 he formulated the Ostwald dilution law and in 1894 he suggested that chemical reactions be viewed as interactions between ions. Ostwald also studied aspects of chemical kinetics, catalysis, and the fundamentals of the catalytic oxidation of ammonia.

In 1887, together with J. Van’t Hoff, Ostwald founded Zeitschrift für physicalische Chemie (Journal of Physical Chemistry), and in 1889, Ostwald’s Klassiker der exakten Wissenschaften (Ostwald’s Classics of the Exact Sciences) was published.

Ostwald founded the energetic theory, a variant of physical idealism. He considered energy to be the only reality and matter to be a manifestation of energy. V. I. Lenin regarded Ostwald as “a very great chemist and very muddled philosopher” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 173).

Ostwald was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1909.


Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Chemie, 2nd ed., vols. 1–2. Leipzig, 1910–11.
Elektrochemie: Ihre Geschichte und Lehre. Leipzig, 1896.
In Russian translation:
Nauchnye osnovy analiticheskoi khimii v elementarnom izlozhenii. Moscow [1925].
Fiziko-khimicheskie izmereniia, parts 1–2. Leningrad, 1935.
For a listing of Ostwald’s philosophical writings, see Filosofskaia entsiklopediia, vol. 4, p. 174. Moscow, 1967.


Rodnyi, N. I., and Iu. I. Solov’ev. Vil’gel’m Ostval’d, 1853–1932. Moscow, 1969.
Ostwald, G. Wilhelm Ostwald—mein Vater. Stuttgart-Berlin, 1953.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.