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Plasma pioneer Irving Langmuir

Jan 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Irving Langmuir

Nobel Prize laureate and one of the pioneers of plasma science.

Born over a century ago on January 31, 1881, in Brooklyn, New York, Langmuir's research into ionized gasses led him in 1928 to apply the word "plasma" because they reminded him of some of the properties of blood plasma.

In the 1920s, Langmuir discovered the double layer, an electrostatic structure that may appear in a plasma, consisting of two layers of oppositely charged ions. Langmuir's electrodes used to probe and study gas discharges are named after him: Langmuir probes.

In the Forward to the Collected Works of Irving Langmuir, C. Guy Suits noted that "One striking feature of his research method was its instrumental simplicity… [H]is own experiments were almost invariably simple and uncluttered. He seemed positively attracted to simple experimental techniques, in refreshing contrast to what sometimes appears to be a fashionable reliance on impressive and expensive complexity of research equipment."

Langmuir's lifelong scientific papers were to have been published in a three or four volume compendium, but the quantity of his papers proved to be much greater than anticipated, and the resulting "The Collected Works of Irving Langmuir" was published in 12 volumes in 1961.

Langmuir won the 1932 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work in surface chemistry. He died in 1957.

Further Reading:

Contributed by Ian Tresman


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