G.N. Lewis

Shared Stories, This Week in History
on December 14, 2011

In a time period where many of the best scientists were in Europe, an American chemist named Gilbert Newton Lewis became one of the world’s most well know scientists. This paper will talk about Gilbert Newton Lewis’s, or better known as G.N. Lewis, life and his education. It will also explain most of what G.N. Lewis worked on and it will be explained to the best of my ability, and it will also talk about the time period Lewis lived in and how it might have helped him gain popularity. G.N. Lewis was one of the greatest American chemists.

October 23, 1875, G.N. Lewis was born in the town of Weymouth, Massachusetts. When he turned nine, his family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he was first admitted into the public school system.  At the age of fourteen Lewis was accepted into the University of Nebraska and two years later transferred to Harvard. By the age of twenty four, Lewis got his PhD from Harvard. Leaving Harvard two years later, his only non-productive years of his life, Lewis went to the Philippines and became the Superintendent of the Bureau of Weights and Measures and later joined a group at MIT where him, and a group of other scientists of the time, researched the systematic determination of electrode potentials of elements for seven years. He was very productive during these years. After leaving MIT, Lewis was selected as the Chairman of the Department of Chemistry and the Dean of the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and he acquired this position in 1912 and had it for thirty four years until his heartbreaking death on March 23, 1946.  During his time at UC Berkeley, Lewis led a well known department that taught many famous scientists. His teaching style, as some of his students reflect, was very relaxed because he taught by having weekly meetings were students would present their work and everyone was free to criticize.  This was a technique that many instructors didn’t use, but for Lewis it was very affective. In 1918, Lewis was Appointed Chief of the Defense Division of Chemical Warfare Service.  For his help in drastically decreasing the casualties from gas attacks in World War One, Lewis was rewarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the U.S. and the Cross of the Legion by France. In 1923, Lewis’s greatest discovery was pushed in the paper “Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances” and “Valence and the Structure of Atoms and Molecules” This was the result of tharch he had been doing most of his career. For the rest of his life through the thirties and forties Lewis studied deuterium, authored twenty-six papers and studied the photochemical processes until his unanticipated death in his laboratory on March 23, 1946.  (Hildebrand  217-224; LeMaster 1)

During his life, G.N. Lewis made many discoveries and advances in the field of science and chemistry. At MIT, Lewis studied the systematic determination of electrode potentials of elements.  After MIT, he worked on Thermodynamics, study of energy transformations as applied to all physicochemical systems including biological, and relationship to chemical equilibrium. (fsu.edu 2) He also did work in the field of isotopes and the introduction of light and matter. One of the discoveries he most known for though, is the discovery of the covalent bond. His thought was that an atom did not just take an electron away from another but the electrons were shared, and this idea was the head of his research. It started by hi, finding out that and atom does not want to bond when it has eight electrons in its outer energy level. From this he made the atoms into a cubic structure and each electron the atom had was put on a corner. When the atoms bonded, the corners with electrons would attach to the corners without electrons thus creating a bond.  (Lewis 762-786) This is close to the type of model we use today in science, the Lewis structure. The only differences is now is that they do not use cubes and the name for having all eight electrons is called an octet.  G.N. Lewis was a chemist well known for his work in these parts of chemistry.

G.N. Lewis was a scientist who lived in an age of new inventions and where people began to accept new ideas. Lewis did most of his work in the early to mid-20th and during this time many things were changing. In the early twentieth century, 1900-1914, people started accepting more ideas. During this time electricity was starting to be dispersed more and the first flight had taken place. After that, WW1 started and Lewis participated in it, boosting his credibility among the American people. After that, the roaring twenties took place, and this was a time were people started accepting many ideas, so this probably helped Lewis with the acceptance of his ideas. From that point on until his death in 1946, the country went through a depression and WW2. This part of the century was ideal for Lewis and his discoveries. (Jackson)

Gilbert Newton Lewis, a great American chemist of not just the time he lived but still today. His life was full of discoveries and action in the field of science and his research and discovery in that field are still used today. The time period was just right for his and he flourished.  G.N. Lewis was and still is one of the greatest American chemists and chemistry teachers ever.

Charicature, Lewis. “GILBERT NEWTON LEWIS.” The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. University of Cincinnati. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://www.woodrow.org/teachers/ci/1992/Lewis.html>.

Hildebrand, Joel H. “G I L B E R T N E W T O N L E W I S.” The National Academies Press. N a T I O N a L a C a D E M Y O F S C I E N C E S. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nap.edu>.

Jackson, R. “1900-1940.” Lecture. American History Class. Merritt Island High school, Merritt Island. 1 Dec. 2011. Edline.net. Web. 5 Dec. 2011.

Lewis, Gilbert N. The Atom and the Molecule. Vol. 38. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 1916. 762-86. Print.

“Topic 7.” The Florida State University. Fsu. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. http://fsu.edu.