Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Onsager, Lars

Lars Onsager, (1903-1976), instructor in chemistry, was born in Oslo on November 27, 1903. He received a degree from the Norwegian Technical University in 1925 and studied at Zurich University before coming to the United States in 1928. In that year, after a brief stint as associate in chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, he came to Brown as research instructor in chemistry and stayed until 1933. He left Brown for Yale, where he was awarded a Ph.D. degree and later became J. Willard Gibbs Professor of Theoretical Chemistry. In 1968 he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work which he had done at Brown and had published in 1931. His work, described by a colleague as “so theoretical that it took 37 years for it be recognized adequately” came to be recognized as “the fourth law of thermodynamics.” Professor Julian Gibbs described the brilliant Onsager as one who always thought that his listeners were as advanced as he was. Students were accustomed to call his course in statistical mechanics “sadistical mechanics” or “Norwegian One.” He died on October 2, 1976 in Coral Gables, Florida. He was at that time 72 years old and a professor at the University of Miami’s Center for Theoretical Studies. The director of the center called him “the greatest theoretical chemist the world has had.”