Walther Hermann Nernst
Walther Nernst is a name familiar to all students of Chemistry and Physics, due to his findings in the field of Thermodynamics, which are still regarded as groundbreaking even today.
Walther Hermann Nernst was born on June 25, 1864, in Briesen, West Prussia. In 1883, he received his school-leaving certificate from the secondary school at Graudenz (today's Grudziadz, Poland). In the same year, he took up his studies at Zurich, then changing to Berlin in 1884, where he attended the lectures of Ludwig Boltzmann. Nernst also began a collaboration with Albert von Ettinghausen in Graz, Austria, with whom he presented the Nernst-Ettinghausen Effect in 1887.
In that year, he moved to Würzburg, to complete his doctoral degree with Friedrich Kohlrausch. He also met Svente Arrhenius and Emil Fischer, two other future Nobel Laureates like him.
Together with Arrhenius and Ostwald, Nernst established and defined the field of Physical Chemistry. Galvanic elements, as batteries were called a hundred years ago, worked without anyone knowing their theory, which Nernst formulated shortly after the turn of the century. Then he turned towards the investigation of ceramic substances – today, they are used in exhaust emission probes. Time and again, he was preoccupied with determining specific heat in interdependence with temperature and free energy, meaning the energy that a battery is capable of emitting. From hypothesis to theory to proof in numerous practical experiments, Nernst showed that it is impossible – no matter by what method one cools – to reach absolute zero.
Living and Working in Würzburg
After a research stay with Ludwig Boltzmann and Albert von Ettinghausen in Graz, Nernst came to Würzburg, where he lived in Pleichertorgasse 10. Here he met future Nobel Laureates Fischer and Arrhenius at the Physical Institute chaired by Professor Kohlrausch. During this time, Nernst was working diligently on his dissertation on the Nernst-Ettinghausen Effect, which he successfully completed in 1887.