Irving Langmuir was
born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 31, 1881. Langmuir was educated
in the public schools of New York and also in Paris, France. He earned
a Bachelor of Science from the Columbia University School of Mines and
a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Gottingen in Germany. His
first professional position was as an instructor of chemistry at Stevens
Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey, from 1906 to 1909.
there he moved to the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady,
New York. What began as a summer job blossomed into a career with the
company that lasted the rest of his life. While at General Electric, Langmuir
received 63 patents and was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize for Chemistry,
as well as numerous other honors. His initial research at General Electric
involved low-pressure chemical reactions and the study of the emission
of electrons by hot filaments in a vacuum. This work led directly to the
invention of the high-vacuum electron tube in 1912 and the gas-filled
incandescent lamp in 1913. Langmuir was responsible for many basic scientific
discoveries, which played a strong role in the development of commercial
electrical products as well as in military and general scientific areas.
He made major contributions to atomic theory and the understanding of
atomic structure. His experiments with oil films on water resulted in
the development of two-dimensional or surface chemistry.
In World War II,
Langmuir was one of the key advisers in the national defense and wartime
scientific research programs, contributing to the development of radar
for use by the British and United States armed. Langmuir died at the age
of 76 on August 16, 1957.