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Founders of thermodynamics and suicide
|Left: in 1946, American physical chemist Gilbert Lewis, central founder of modern chemical thermodynamics, at the age of 70, was coincidently found dead in his laboratory next to an open bottle of poisonous liquid cyanide, following a lunch with a long-time rival physical chemist Irving Langmuir, who years earlier had culled off his bonding theories to win the 1932 Nobel Prize in chemistry, whereas Lewis never won despite 35 nominations (and several student Laureates). Right: in 1850, German physician-physicist Robert Mayer, after discovering that James Joule had claimed discovery of the mechanical equivalent of heat, while his work was still unknown, jumped out of a third-story window, and was later put in an asylum.|
“Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously.”
In sum, thermodynamics, what many consider to be the most intellectually difficult subjects of all, is noted for its prevalence of suicides and suicide attempts by a large percentage of its founders, including German physicist and physician Robert Mayer (jumping out of window), Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (hanging), American physical chemist Gilbert Lewis (cyanide), among others, discussed below.
In 1840, German physician and physicist Robert Mayer, one of the first to state the first law of thermodynamics, while working as a ship’s doctor on a Dutch vessel which visited the East Indies, had conceived of the mechanical equivalent of heat by study of the color of the blood of his crewmates and the temperature difference between the tropics and Europe. In 1842, after returning to Germany, he began to publish his scientific theories on in obscure journals, such as Annals of Chemistry and Pharmacy, but his theories went largely unnoticed as these journals were not read by physicists. Those who did notice, however, ridiculed his work, as it was not based on experimental data. 
During this period, one of his sons and two of his daughters fell ill and died before the age of three. He also discovered that English physicist James Joule had claimed discovery of the mechanical equivalent of heat, while his theory was still unknown. In 1850, during an attack of insomnia, Mayer jumped out of a third-story window and fell almost thirty feet to the ground and broke both his legs. It is said that in 1851, he was placed in an asylum, but later released. 
He survived, but soon was forced to begin spending long series of voluntary and involuntary hospitalizations and even occasional restraint by strait-jacket.  Curiously, in Poggendorf’s authoritative 1863 Dictionary of the History of Science it was incorrectly claimed that Mayer had already died—in an insane asylum.
|American progressive historian Henry Adams (at his desk) shown next to his wife Clover Adams (on horseback), who in 1885 swallowed potassium cyanide KCN less than eight months after her husband defined the new-to-be subject of human chemistry (or "social chemistry", as he put it) as the study of the attraction (and repulsion) of "equivalent" human molecules, to her in letter.|
On April 12th, 1885 American historian Henry Adams, one of the first dual pioneers of human chemistry and human thermodynamics, wrote a letter to his wife Clover Adams, written while at extended stay at work in Washington, wherein he outlined the future subject of human chemistry:
“I am not prepared to deny or assert any proposition which concerns myself; but certainly this solitary struggle with platitudinous atoms, called men and women by courtesy, leads me to wish for my wife again. How did I ever hit on the only women in the world who fits my cravings and never sounds hollow anywhere?
Social chemistry—the mutual attraction of equivalent human molecules—is a science yet to be created, for the fact is my daily study and only satisfaction in life.”
Less than eight months after this letter, on December 7th, 1885, Clover swallowed potassium cyanide and was found by her husband lying dead on the rug before her bedroom fire. 
This subject "yet to be created", as Adams put it, would be developed in the two centuries to follow (Fairburn, Human Chemistry, 1914; Dreier, We Human Chemicals, 1948; Thims, Human Chemistry, 2007).
American biographer Natalie Dykstra’s recent 2012 Clover Adams: a Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, offers a conjecture that the reasons behind her sudden end can be found in the photographs she began taking in the spring of 1883; as well as some recently discovered Henry Adams letters written to one of Clover's best friends following the incident. 
|Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger shot himself in the heart four months after finishing his Goethe-influenced human chemical theory stylized Sex and Character, in the same room where Ludwig Beethoven died.|
In 1903, Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger, following unknowingly in the footsteps of Henry Adams (or rather his wife), in respect to elaborating on a type of human chemical thermodynamics, finished his Sex and Character: A Fundamental Investigation, a noted quote of which is:
“If iron sulphate and caustic potash are brought together, the SO4 ions leave the iron to unite with the potassium. When in nature an adjustment of such differences of potential is about to take place, he who would approve or disapprove of the process form the moral point of view would appear to most to play a ridiculous part.”
in which he claims to be the first to extrapolate upon German polymath Johann Goethe’s 1809 chemical affinity theory of relationships, passions, sex, marriage and divorce: 
“I must confess to being proud that this book is the first work to take up [Goethe’s] [human chemical theory] ideas.”
Four months before he shot himself in the heart. Specifically, in June 1903, after months of concentrated work, Weininger finish his human chemistry upgrade book Sex and Character: A Fundamental Investigation , an attempt "to place sex relations in a new and decisive light"—namely, it seems, and expansion of Goethe’s human chemical theory applied to feminism and sexual relation issues. The book did not created the expected “stir”, although at one point it was attacked by German neurologist and Goethe-Schopenhauer-Nietzsche scholar Paul Mobius who accused him of plagiarism. Deeply disappointed, and seemingly depressed, Weininger left for Italy. Back in Vienna he spent his last five days with his parents. On October 3, he took a room in the house in Schwarzspanierstraße 15 where Ludwig van Beethoven died. He told the landlady that he was not to be disturbed before morning since he planned to work and then to go to bed late. This night he wrote two letters, one addressed to his father, the other one to his brother Richard, telling them that he was going to shoot himself. On October 4, Weininger was found mortally wounded, having shot himself through the heart. He died in Wiener Allgemeines Krankenhaus at half past ten that morning. Weininger was buried in the Matzleinsdorf Protestant Cemetery in Vienna. The epitaph by his father translates:
“This stone closes the resting place of a youth whose spirit never found rest on earth. And when he had made known the revelations of his spirit and of his soul, he could no longer bear to be among the living. He sought out the death precinct of one of the greatest in Vienna's Schwarzspanier house, and there destroyed his bodily existence.”
In 1898, the resolve of Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, one the founders of statistical thermodynamics, in his work, was beginning to weaken, following prolonged onslaught from Ernst Mach and others from the energetics school who denied the existence of atoms, the linchpin of Boltzmann's gas theory; the following statement, according to Jing Chen (Ѻ), among others, made that year is said to be parlay into his eventual end: 
“I am conscious of being only one individual struggling weakly against the current of time. But it still remains in my power to make a contribution in such a way that, when the theory of gases is again revived, not too much will have to be rediscovered.”
In 1905, Boltzmann took a trip from Vienna to California to lecture on thermodynamics during the summer session at the University of California, Berkeley (the same school where Gilbert Lewis would later commit suicide). By this time in his life he was plagued by a variety of illnesses: deteriorating eyesight, asthma attacks, angina, and migraines. Worse, he suffered from deep depressions that periodically carried him off into his own private hell, and had led to a suicide attempt a few years earlier.  Not long before the California trip, Boltzmann’s wife, Henriette, had lamented to their daughter: “Father gets worse every day. I have lost my confidence in the future”.
|In 1906, Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, central founder of statistical mechanics, at the age of 62, hung himself, while on vacation with his wife and daughter, after decades of attack on his theory of the statistical behavior of molecules; a theory vindicated to the greatest extent years after his death.|
The central difficulty facing Boltzmann was his strong belief in the reality of atoms and the opposition to this belief professed by his closest friends and many of his scientific peers. Yet, in spite of universal acceptance of his statistical thermodynamics theories of gas interactions, during his travel to Berkeley he was at the height of his fame. Students flocked to his lectures, and colleagues throughout the world sought his counsel. His identification of entropy with probability was recognized as a masterpiece of theoretical physics. On his sixtieth birthday, during the previous year, a collection of his papers had been published in his honor, with contributions from 117 scientists and he had received countless medals and honorary doctorates. But he was not a happy man. 
In September of 1906, a year after his California trip, on vacation hear the Italian seaside town of Trieste with his wife and daughter, his migraines and depressions overcame him. While the women were off swimming, Boltzmann tied a short cord to the crossbar of a window in his rented apartment, put a noose around his neck, and hanged himself. His daughter, Elsa, returned to find him dead.
Suicide, to note, seems to have been in Boltzmann’s mind in some respect during the time of his famous 1895 Lectures on Gas Theory, when during discussion of the improbability of unlikely events occurring, such as one mole of gas finding itself in one half of a container, Boltzmann commented by analogy: 
“One may recognize that this is practically equivalent to never, if one recalls that in this length of time, according to the laws of probability, there will have been many years in which every inhabitant of a large country committed suicide, purely by accident, on the same day, or every building burned down at the same time—yet the insurance companies get along quite well by ignoring the possibility of such events.”
Thermodynamics historian Stephen Brush comments on Boltzmann’s ironic death that: 
“This suicide must be ranked as one of the great tragedies in the history of science, made all the more ironic by the fact that the scientific world made a complete turnabout in the next few years and accepted the existence of atoms, following Perrin’s experiments on Brownian motion.”
In other words, in 1909, only three years after Boltzmann hung himself for having the scientific community, namely: Ernst Mach, Ernst Zermelo, and Wilhelm Ostwald, reject his belief of the existence of atoms and his interpretation of thermodynamics as an atomic and molecular phenomenon, French chemist Jean Perrin proved that atoms exist, experimentally, by calculating and determined the number of atoms in one mole of substance.
|Austrian physicist Paul Ehrenfest, Boltzmann's famous student, shot himself in 1933 owing to, as his associate Albert Einstein summarized, "work overload and depression".|
In 1933, Boltzmann's noted student Austrian physicist Paul Ehrenfest, said, according to his associate Albert Einstein, to have been depressed from an overloaded workload, made arrangements for the care of his other three children, then on September 25 first shot his Down syndrome son Wassik, then shot himself.
In psychological thermodynamics, American psychologist William James is noted for his 1906 reserve energy theory of mental and physical activity, which argued that reserve reservoirs of energy lay latent in the human only waiting to be tapped. In circa 1908, however, James’ theory came into contact with the repercussion of the second law of thermodynamics through a reading of his friend American historian Henry Adams’ manuscript A Letter to American Teachers of History, in which it was argued that human history is subject to degradations of energy. In response, James’ sent a letter of criticism and rebuttal to Adams arguing against Adams’ theory; followed by two later postcards in the same effort. James, who in his early adulthood had suffered from periods of depression during which he contemplated suicide for months on end, died on August 26, 1909, exactly two months after sending his last postcard to Adams. Robert Richardson, in his 2007 biography on James, comments on this last stand effort before his death: 
“What can one say about the philosophical bravado, the cosmic effrontery, the sheer panache of this ailing philosopher with one foot in the grave [see also: Thomas Jefferson, 1819] talking down the second law of thermodynamics? It is a scene fit to set alongside the death of Socrates.”
In short, Adam's Letter to American Teachers of History essentially laid question to James' theory of innate reserve energies, and this may have acted as his tipping point.
|In 1915, Clara Haber (left), wife of gas reaction thermodynamics founder Fritz Haber (right), at the age of 45, shot herself in the heart, the same day her husband left for the Eastern Front to oversee gas release against the Russians. Their son Hermann Haber, as well as Hermann’s oldest daughter, did the same.|
In the 1910s, German chemist Fritz Haber, winner of the 1918 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his thermodynamics work, had been instrumental in the development of poisonous gas applications for use in warfare. Haber believed that the use of chlorine gas against entrenched troops would bring about a speedier victory for Germany in WWI. On April 22, 1915, German troops released about 168 tons of chlorine from more than 5,000 steel cylinders along a 6-km frontline of Ypres, against the French. There were 15,000 injuries, including 5,000 fatalities.
Several days later, in what is said to be a combination of marital discord and grave objections to her husband’s war efforts, on May 02, 1915, Haber's wife Clara shot herself through the heart, in their garden, with her husband’s military service weapon; an incident discovered by their thirteen-year old son Hermann.  That same morning, prior to the incident, Haber had left for the Eastern Front to oversee gas release against the Russians. In 1947, in the United States, Hermann took his own life and, shortly thereafter, Hermann’s oldest daughter did the same. 
In 1946, it was superficially reported that American physical chemist Gilbert Lewis, one of the central founders of modern chemical thermodynamics, at the age of 70, had died of a heart attack while working in his laboratory. He had been working on an experiment with liquid hydrogen cyanide, and deadly fumes from a "broken line", which seems to be a misrepresentation of facts (see Jolly report below), were leaking into the laboratory when a graduate student found the professor's lifeless body under a workbench. The coroner said Lewis died of coronary artery disease; however, some believe that the death may have been a suicide. UC Berkeley professor Emeritus William Jolly, who reported the various views on Lewis' death in his 1987 history of the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Chemistry, From Retorts to Lasers, said one higher-up in the department believed the suicide theory.
A possible explanation for the suicide theories was depression following a lunch with American physical chemist Irving Langmuir. Langmuir and Lewis had had a long rivalry, dating back to Langmuir's extensions of Lewis' theories on the chemical bond, and Langmuir had been awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his theories of surface chemistry, while Lewis had not received the Nobel Prize despite 35 nominations.
On the day of Lewis' death, Langmuir and Lewis met for lunch at the University of California, Berkeley—a meeting that was recalled by Lewis' last research associate, Michael Kasha, only years later.  It was reported by associates that Lewis came back from the meeting in a dark mood. He reportedly sat down for a morose game of bridge with some colleagues, and then went back to work in his lab. An hour later, Lewis was dead. Langmuir's papers at the Library of Congress confirm that he was on the University of California, Berkeley campus that day. Langmuir had gone to the University of California, Berkeley to receive an honorary degree.
|American chemistry historian Patrick Coffey's 2008 Cathedrals of Science, in which he devotes an end chapter to Gilbert Lewis' mysterious death, in 1946 by via hydrogen cyanide (HCN), drawn to understand the nature of the "haunted eyes" looking out from one of Lewis' last photos (on his 70th birthday). |
In 2006, American a self-employed business-consulting chemist Patrick Coffey, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology, gave talk at Berkeley’s Chemistry College, packing the house, on his recent historical investigations into Lewis’ mysterious end, for a chapter he was writing devoted to the subject, as found in his Cathedrals of Science (2008).  As SFGate.com reporter Rich VelVecchio, in his “What Killed Famed Cal Chemist?” interview article, summarizes: 
“The focus of Coffey's current fascination is a character whose haunted eyes look out from a portrait taken shortly before he unexpectedly died under cloudy circumstances 60 years ago.”
Coffey reports William Jolly, in his history of the Berkeley chemistry department, as having writing the following: 
“One of Lewis’s bridge-playing cronies, Gerald Marsh, said that on the afternoon of March 23, 1946, Lewis appeared to be morose while playing cards at the Faculty Club. He then went to his laboratory in Gilman Hall, where he was later found dead near a broken ampoule of hydrogen cyanide.”
There is, to note, a statistical pattern which indicates that Nobel Prize winners live (react) longer than Nobel Prize losers (or non-winners); this may, indeed, have been a factor with Lewis, one of the greatest chemists ever:
“The fact that Lewis never was awarded the Nobel Prize for his breathtaking work is one of the stains in the history of this prize. Yet the very same Lewis was the direct mentor of more Nobel Prize winners in chemistry than any Nobel Prize winner in any category.”— Adriaan de Lange (1998), “On Entropy” 
|British polymath Alan Turing met his end via cyanide-laced apple in 1954 for so-called "homosexual" crimes committed two years prior while doing pioneering work on the in chemical thermodynamics of morphology.|
In 1952, British polymath, mathematician, engineer, computer scientist, code breaker, and chemist Alan Turing, publishing his chemical thermodynamics based based “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis”, wherein he aimed to explain morphological development of organisms, via a possible mechanism by which the genes of a zygote or embryo may determine the anatomical structure of resulting organisms, via recourse to equilibrium reaction theory and free energy determinates. That same year he was convicted of ‘Acts of Gross Indecency’, after admitting a sexual relationship with another man. He was given a choice between 18 months prison time (which considering his crime, was not exactly wise), or chemical castration, which included side effects such as breast enlargement. He chose the latter.
On the 7 Jun 1954, unable to endure the humiliation and pain of his punishment, Turing took his own life by eating an apple laced with cyanide:
“Turing was found by his cleaner when she came in on 8 June 1954. He had died the day before of cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple beside his bed. His mother believed he had accidentally ingested cyanide from his fingers after an amateur chemistry experiment, but it is more credible that he had successfully contrived his death to allow her alone to believe this. The coroner's verdict was suicide.”— Andrew Hodges (1995), Turing.org.uk (Ѻ)
Despite this, it would take another 13-years for homosexuality to be decriminalised in the Britain. 
|In 1961, American physicist Percy Bridgman, eponym of Bridgman formulas, the systematic collection and derivation of the main equations in thermodynamics, at the age of 79, shot himself in the head after living with megastatic cancer form some time.|
In 1961, American physicist Percy Bridgman, noted for his high pressure physics work, thermodynamics formula derivation system (Bridgman formulas), and the so-called Bridgman paradox about the supposed inability to calculated state functions of living things (e.g. people), because one would have to do reversibly, hence destroying the living thing in the process, committed suicide by gunshot after living with metastatic cancer for some time. His suicide note read in part: 
“It isn't decent for society to make a man do this thing himself. Probably this is the last day I will be able to do it myself.”
The Bridgman suicide note is frequently quoted in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide legalization arguments. (Ѻ)
In the 2008 world government and politics human thermodynamics education lecture notes of American government professor Richard Hughes, he states that a reading of chapter eighteen of Greek-born Belgian physicist Grégoire Nicolis and Belgian chemist Ilya Prigogine's, 1977 Self-Organization in Non-Equilibrium Systems, one of the founding books of nonequilbrium thermodynamics, will help one get “through many a rough night avoiding the thoughts of suicide.” 
A number of thermodynamics and or statistical thermodynamics writers and professors, on David Goodstein’s 1975 lead, now open to semi-humorous warnings about the dangers of studying statistical mechanics and or thermodynamics, e.g. Y.V.C Rao (Ѻ), Franco Nori (Ѻ), etc.;
“When I was an undergraduate studying physics, my physics supervisor introduced me to thermodynamics by explaining that Ludwig Boltzmann committed suicide in 1906, as did Paul Ehrenfest in 1933. Now it was my turn to study what had driven them both to take their own lives.”— Peter | telescoper (2009), “The Thermodynamics of Beards” (Ѻ), Jul 14
The following is an opening quote from Benjamin Crowell’s thermodynamic chapter: (Ѻ)
“S = k log W — Inscription on the tomb of Ludwig Boltzmann, 1844-1906. Boltzmann, who originated the microscopic theory of thermodynamics, was driven to suicide by the criticism of his peers, who thought that physical theories shouldn't discuss purely hypothetical objects like atoms.”
The following is are from the online PowerPoint lecture notes English professor Brian Cowan's Statistical Mechanics course: (Ѻ)
Though, correctly, William James didn’t commit suicide, and Gilbert Lewis' death (reaction end) date (1946) is off; but, whatever the case, humor it seems wins out in this bullet point stylized case in point.
● Christian de Duve | Dereacted (age 95) at the time of his choice via euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium
● Ettore Majorana (disappearance)
● Halbwachs indicator | Suicide rate as gauge of social temperature
|A 2010 thermodynamics humor play on the coincidence of thermodynamics founding and suicide, by Tony Piro. (Ѻ)|
1. Baeyer, Hans C. (1998). Warmth Disperses and Time Passes – the History of Heat, (pgs. 101, 110-11). New York: Modern Library.
2. Coffey, Patrick. (2008). Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry, (pgs. 195-207, 310-15). Oxford University Press.
3. (a) Richard D. Hughes – California State University, Sacramento.
(b) A Thermodynamic View of Politics (PDF) – by Richard D. Hughes.4. Smil, Vaclav. (2004). Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of the World Food (pg. 226). MIT Press.
5. Stern, Fritz R., and Stern, Fritz. (2001). Einstein’s German World, (pg. 121). Princeton University Press.
6. Richardson, Robert D. (2007). William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism: a Biography (pgs. 518-19). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
7. Nuland, Sherwin. (1995). How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter. Vintage Press.
8. Marian Hooper Adams – Wikipedia.
9. Goodstein, David. (1975). States of Matter (pg. 1). Dover.
10. Rao, Y.V.C. (2004). An Introduction to Thermodynamics (pg. 98). University Press.
11. Smith, Eric B. (2005). Basic Chemical Thermodynamics (pg. 32). Imperial Press.
12. Boltzmann, Ludwig. (1895). Lectures on Gas Theory (suicide, pgs. 17, 444). Dover.
13. Weinhold, Frank. (2009). Classical and Geometrical Theory of Chemical and Phase Thermodynamics (pg. 70). Wiley-Interscience.
14. Top 10 Scientists who committed Suicide (2007) – ListVerse.com.
15. Coffey, Patrick. (2008). Cathedrals of Science: the Personalities and Rivalries that Made Modern Science (suicide, 8+ pgs; §: Lewis’s Depression, pgs. 307-310; §:Lewis’s Death, pgs. 310-16) . Oxford University Press.
16. DelVecchio, Rich. (2006). “What Killed Famed Cal Chemist?” / 20th Century pioneer who failed to win Nobel Prize may have Succumbed to a Broken Heart, one Admirer Theorizes” (Ѻ), SFGage.com, Aug 5.
17. Dykstra, Natalie. (2012). Clover Adams: a Gilded and Heartbreaking Life (Ѻ). Publisher.
18. De Lange, A.M. (1998). “Entropy”, Oct 30, Learning-org.com.
19. Isihara, A. (1971). Statistical Physics (pg. 18). Academic Press.
● Lisa. (2011). “Science Macabre” (Italian → English), Blog, Jun 04.
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