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Bolton Society Symposia: 2010 August

Named for Henry Carrington Bolton, the Bolton Society encourages and promotes the individual love for and collection of all types of printed material devoted to chemistry and related sciences.

Classic Books in Chemistry VII: Physical Chemistry Books from New England

Organizers: Gary Patterson, Ned Heindel

Presiders: Gary Patterson

Physical chemistry before Ostwald: The textbooks of Josiah Parsons Cooke / William B Jensen

The usual story is that the discipline of physical chemistry was born of the efforts of the German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald in the 1880s. In fact there were at least two earlier traditions of theoretical chemistry textbooks which preceded those of Ostwald and his students by at least three decades. The talk will review these earlier traditions as exemplified in the textbooks of the Harvard chemist Josiah Parsons Cooke.

Henry Adams and the application of thermodynamics to history / Roger A. Egolf, Peter A. Khoury

The topic of this symposium is the history of physical chemistry books written by authors from New England. This paper turns this topic on its ear by looking at a few essays written by a prominent New Englander which applied physical chemistry to history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, social sciences ranging from psychology and economics to political science began to attempt to apply the methods of the natural sciences to their problems with much apparent success. In this intellectual atmosphere, more than a few historians became enamored with the idea that they could use the methods of physics and biology to turn their field into a predictive science. Henry Adams, an author, editor, world traveler, former history professor at Harvard, and descendent of two American presidents, wrote several long essays in which he attempted to apply entropy and Gibb's phase rule to historical processes. There is much controversy whether Adams truly believed in the ideas he proposed, or if he might have been playing a joke on his historian peers. This paper will discuss the ideas he presented in his essays “A letter to American Teachers of History” and “The Rule of Phase Applied to History”.

Measures of the spread: The influence of statistics on J. Willard Gibbs and the influence of Gibbs on statistics / Cathy Cobb

As chemists, we tend to claim J. Willard Gibbs as our own. Is he not, after all, the father of
physical chemistry? It seems, however, that several disciplines can trace their lineage through Willard Gibbs. This presentation will offer a brief history of the field of statistics up to the time of J. Willard Gibbs, explore Gibbs's masterful use of statistics to establish the theoretical foundations of chemical thermodynamics, and then investigate how fields as diverse as economics, evolutionary biology, and literature have adapted and profited from the mathematics of J. Willard Gibbs.

Richards the First / Paul J Karol

Theodore William Richards received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry - the first American so recognized - in 1914 for his careful measurements of atomic weights. Richards attended Haverford College and then Harvard. He received his Ph.D. in 1888 with Josiah Cooke and subsequently studied with Ostwald and Nernst. Richards published prolifically on precision analysis, and thermodynamics, often in collaboration with the Carnegie Institution in Washington. I will review “Determinations of Atomic Weights” and “Fundamental Properties of the Elements”.

"Chemical Thermodynamics", by Kirkwood and Oppenheim / Prof. Tom Keyes

Theodore William Richards received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry - the first American so recognized - in 1914 for his careful measurements of atomic weights. Richards attended Haverford College and then Harvard. He received his Ph.D. in 1888 with Josiah Cooke and subsequently studied with Ostwald and Nernst. Richards published prolifically on precision analysis, and thermodynamics, often in collaboration with the Carnegie Institution in Washington. I will review “Determinations of Atomic Weights” and “Fundamental Properties of the Elements”.

MIT and the physical chemistry laboratory: Charles Kraus and "The Properties of Electrically Conducting Systems" / Gary D Patterson

New England produced many communities of physical chemists that led to significant books. MIT is noted for the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry founded by A.A. Noyes. One of the most notable books that issued from work at this laboratory was written at the invitation of Noyes by Charles A. Kraus: “The Properties of Electrically Conducting Systems.” It appeared in 1922 as Number 7 in the famous series of ACS Monographs (before the existence of the Debye-Huckel theory). It exhaustively reviewed the available data for both conductivity and ionic equilibrium in electrolyte solutions. It also surveyed the available theories and concluded that no successful theory yet existed. The present paper will discuss the book in its context as a representative work from MIT and as a contribution to the paradigm of electrolyte solutions.