Gilbert Lewis nsIn existographies, Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875-1946) (IQ:195|#12) [RGM:652|1,500+] [CR:429] was an American physical chemist and chemical thermodynamicist notable for the publication of his 1923 textbook Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances, written via dictation to American physical chemist Merle Randall, that resulted to be the most referenced thermodynamics textbook (by other thermodynamics textbooks) of the 20th century, known as the the so-called "thermodynamic bible", that resulted, in the 1956 words of American chemistry historian Henry Leicester, to “replace the term ‘affinity’ by the term ‘free energy’ [throughout] the English-speaking world.”

Lewis is also noted for the development of the Lewis dot structure (electron pair) model (1902) of the covalent bond, e.g. H:H for the hydrogen molecule H2, for his Anatomy of Science conjectures on a speculative future "wonderful science" (see: hmolscience), somewhere between mechanics and psychology, that explains the behavior of both the electron and a person (1925), for coining the term photon as the particle of light (1926), for his interjection into the Szilard demon argument (1930), and in general for the formation of what has come to be known as the "Lewis school", centered around the University of California, Berkeley, which, as summarized by South African physical chemist Adriaan de Lange, has produced “more Nobel Prize winners in chemistry than any Nobel Prize winner in any category”, a school of influence that is still being felt.

See related: Chemistry professor paradox
In his 1925 Anatomy of Science (§7: Non-Mathematical Sciences), Lewis delves into the tricky question of evolution of the animate things/living things (terms which he rotates usage of) from atoms and molecules in the context of physical science. To begin with he starts with the famous what’s the difference between a rock and a human query. He points out that so-called living cells have optically active substances. Then, however, he says:

“It is possible, however, that we may find some missing link to connect the animate with the inanimate?”

He acknowledges that ‘living creatures’ are often characterized by the ‘power of reproduction’; but discredits this definition, by pointing out that crystals have the power of reproduction. He then states the following, which seems to be lead into an emergence point of view:

“Inanimate things we describe as obeying laws which are fixed for all time, but the living organism is an opportunist, making new laws from time to time in its constant evolution.”

He then brings up “autocatalysis” as a possible solution, which he describes as a type of catalysis in which a reaction is accelerated by one of its own products, so that a long time may elapse before anything happens, but if that product begins to form, or is introduced form with, the reaction goes faster and faster.” This, which is nothing more than an unconscious attempt at solution via promoting a perpetual motion of the living kind theory, is similar to Stuart Kauffman’s recent 1990s platform of “auto-catalytic closure” thermodynamic theory of the origin of life. Lewis then spends a page or two describing a thought experiment where we are told to imagine a “certain solution capable of producing a given organic substance, but that it will not produce this substance unless one molecule of this substance is already there, after which more and more of these molecules form at the expense of the nutrient solution.” He then goes on to explain how isomers of these molecules could form, then begin to collide with each other, knocking off certain atoms, leading to mutations. He then concludes:

“We should see a process of evolution, each molecule reproducing itself exactly, until an accidental rearrangement would set a new molecule to propagating itself. Would not this be reproduction with transmission of acquired characteristics?”

A molecule that “propagating itself”, however, is perpetual motion—it is biological theory forced biasedly into chemistry. Lewis defends this by commenting “you may object to my using terms drawn from biology.” In any event, he then boldly digs into the heart of the matter, i.e. the gist of what we now have come to define as hmolscience (human chemistry + human thermodynamics + human physics):

“Suppose that this hypothetical experiment could be realized, which seems not unlikely, and suppose we could discover a whole chain of phenomena [evolution timeline], leading by imperceptible gradations form the simplest chemical molecule to the most highly developed organism [human molecule]. Would we then say that my preparation of this volume [Anatomy of Science] is only a chemical reaction [extrapolate up approach], or, conversely that a crystal is thinking [extrapolate down approach] about the concepts of science?”

This is all a very excellent Hegelian dialectic juxtaposition of the issues: how do we defining "thinking" if all phenomena is only variations of atomic structures? Is Lewis himself nothing but an "complex chemical molecule" that has evolved from imperceptible gradations form "simple chemical molecules"? Lewis then answers his own questions (similar to the way, in modern times, many jump to the label of human chemistry or human thermodynamics as “crackpot”) by commenting:

Nothing could be more absurd, and I once more express the hope that in attacking the infallibility of categories I have not seemed to intimate that they are the less to be respected because they are not absolute. The interaction between two bodies is treated by methods of mechanics; the interaction of a billion such bodies must be treated by the statistical methods of thermodynamics.”

He then jumps to the “emergence” point of view solution to the origin of life (his italics):

“They are the same bodies and presumably follow the same behavior, but a great group of new phenomena emerges when we study an immense number, and by this we must mean merely that phenomena appear that never would have been recognized of dreamed of if the two bodies alone had been studied.”

The emergence view has been employed by others recently, e.g. Georgi Gladyshev (c. 2011), but nevertheless is a defunct patch solution. What is interesting to see is Lewis turning his back on chemical thermodynamics, the subject he is largely responsible for developing, which he famously said only two years prior was a “universal rule”, when it comes to so-called “living things” and evolution theory: in other words, Lewis seems to have sided with Darwin, than himself. Lewis would have been well-advised, had he had the chance to go-back and re-write this chapter to have heeded the honed wisdom of Max Planck, who commented his famous ultraviolet catastrophy problem solving philosophy, in a 1931 letter to R.W. Wood: [17]

“It was an act of desperation. For six years I had struggled with blackbody theory. I knew the problem was fundamental, and I knew the answer. I had to find a theoretical explanation at any cost, except for the inviolability of the two laws of thermodynamics.”


Frederick Rossini (young)
Frederick Rossini, Lewis' most noted student, in respect to the human chemical thermodynamics. [19]

Lewis school
See main: Lewis school of thermodynamics
Lewis, after schooling himself at the MIT school of thermodynamics, became the head of the chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley, stimulating thermodynamics research there, between the years 1912 and 1946. His influence, and many students, have since come to be associated with the “Lewis school”, including Frederick Rossini, noted for his 1950 textbook Chemical Thermodynamics textbook and for his 1971 "Chemical Thermodynamics in the Real World" wherein he suggested that chemical thermodynamics could be used to explain the nature of freedom and security in social existence, a conjecture that, following 9/11, sparked the famous 2006-launched Rossini debate on the possibility of the reality of the science of human chemical thermodynamics.

Free will | Behavior
In the last chapter of his The Anatomy of Science (§8: Life; Body and Mind), Lewis seems to have dove off the deep end of his hard science platform, in his speculations about "biology", arguing, with a bit of ambivalence, that:

"The science of physics rests on the postulate of determinism; the science of biology, unless it is to ignore deliberately the phenomenon of behavior, must abandon this postulate and substitute therefor a postulate of choice or freedom."

He even seems to side with vitalism, to some extent in his presentation (although he admits to being ignorant to the history of this term). Prior to this ending synopsis, however, he does leave the question open to future possibilities:

“Perhaps our genius for unity will some time produce a science so broad as to include the behavior of a group of electrons and the behavior of a university faculty, but such a possibility seems now so remote that I for one would hesitate to guess whether this wonderful science would be more like mechanics or like a psychology.”

In retrospect, the future "science" Lewis here speaks of seems to hmolscience, and or a combination or one or another of: human chemistry, human thermodynamics, and human physics, depending.

Thermodynamics and animated organisms
In 1925, Lewis was invited to give the Silliman Lectures at Yale, which were published the following year as The Anatomy of Science, wherein, in popular talk style, he outlined his own personal philosophy of science. [13] In regard to life in the context of the second law, as summarized by English fellow chemical thermodynamicist John Butler (1944), Lewis outlined a somewhat peculiar view, considering the precision used in his work in chemical thermodynamics, loosely that life somehow cheats the second law: [14]

“[Living organisms are] cheats in the game of entropy, [which] alone seem able to breast the great stream of apparently irreversible processes. These processes tear down, living things build up. While the rest of the world seems to move towards a dead level of uniformity, the living organism is evolving new substances and more and more intricate forms.”

Merle Randall (text summary)
A summary of Merle Randall, according to chemist William Jolly, as seemingly being Randall’s note taker, throughout the writing of his famous textbook, rather than as an actual co-author. [13]

Lewis’ biographer Patrick Coffey (2008) goes on to summarize, supposedly, that Lewis espoused a Lamarckian view that offspring could inherit acquired traits from their parents, and comments that his biological philosophy was “close to vitalism”, with his opinions that the processes of life are quite different from physical and chemical processes, and that animate beings may have some way to cheat the second law. [15]

Chemical affinity
See main: Chemical affinity, Affinity table, Elective affinity, etc.
To give an idea of the density of the word ‘affinity’, of which entire historical treatises have been written, per century, the following is the opening explanation of Lewis as to how his textbook came about:

“Indeed, our purpose at the outset (1909) was to merely to collect, for the practical use of the chemist and the chemical engineer, the data which we have obtained, or which we have assembled from the work of other investigators, pertaining to the ‘great problem of chemical affinity.’ But then we were convinced that mere reference tables would hardly render full service without some description of the methods by which they were obtained. The development of these methods of applying thermodynamics to chemical problems has occupied the greater part of our time for many years (1909-23) (14-years).”

By 1956, Lewis and Randall’s textbook, according to American chemistry historian Henry Leicester, had led to the replacement of the word ‘affinity’ by the term ‘free energy’ throughout the English speaking world. [14]

Lewis educated at home by his parents in the style of the English tutoring system. His only public schooling occurred between the ages of 9 to 13 years in Lincoln, Nebraska. At age 13, Lewis entered the University of Nebraska but transferred to Harvard College after three years. Lewis completed his BS in chemistry (1896), his MA (1898), and PhD (1899) at Harvard. His thesis was “Some Electrochemical and Thermochemical Reactions of Zinc and Cadmium Amalgams”, which was published jointly with American chemist Theodore Richards. [11] Richards trained him in experimental techniques, careful measurements, and fostered his interest in thermodynamics. [3]

Lewis stayed as an instructor at Harvard for a year before taking a traveling fellowship, studying under the physical chemists Wilhelm Ostwald at Leipzig and Walther Nernst at Göttingen. [4] He later returned to work for a period at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in 1900 to 1907 he expanded and clarified the work of American engineer Willard Gibbs’ thermodynamics and introduced and developed concepts such as fugacity and activity. [5]

Lewis caricature (chemistry and thermodynamics) (labeled)
Left: caricature of Lewis, by American chemistry historian William Jensen, depicted as a prophet of the chemical bond for the vision of his dot structure notation developed as an aid to students during his 1902 chemistry lectures at Harvard. [16] Right: retouched caricature of Lewis, by Libb Thims, as one of the prophets of modern thermodynamics, for the publication of his 1923 chemical thermodynamics textbook, soon known as the "bible" of thermodynamics (see: thermodynamic bible), for, in the words of chemistry historian Henry Leicester, (a) replacing the word "affinity" by the word "free energy" throughout the English speaking world, and most importantly (b) through the simplification of 700-equation treatise of Willard Gibbs into the following truncated equation: ΔG < 0, which has since come to be called the Lewis inequality for natural processes, an equation which has been found to govern both human nature and chemical nature (see: human free energy) or as put succinctly by Goethe "there is, after all, only one nature".
Chemical bond
Aside for his work in thermodynamics, Lewis also pioneered the Lewis dot structures, of labeling electrons in paired dots around atoms, developed 1902 during his lectures at Harvard, wrote the famous 1916 article “The Atom and the Molecule”, and developed a basic theory of chemical bonding. In particular, in about 1900, Lewis began to use dots in lecture, while teaching undergraduates at Harvard, to represent the electrons around atoms. His students favored these drawings, which stimulated him in this direction. From these lectures, Lewis noted that elements with a certain number of electrons seemed to have a special stability.

This phenomenon was pointed out by the German chemist Richard Abegg in 1904, to which Lewis referred to as "Abegg's law of valence" (now generally known as Abegg's rule). To Lewis it appeared that once a core of eight electrons has formed around a nucleus, the layer is filled, and a new layer is started. Lewis also noted that various ions with eight electrons also seemed to have a special stability. On these views, he proposed the rule of eight or octet rule: Ions or atoms with a filled layer of eight electrons have a special stability. [6]

Lewis cubit atoms
Lewis cubit atoms bonding at electron corners to form chemically bonded cubit molecules B, in such a matter that each atom finds the most atom finds the most stability when it satisfies "Abegg's law of valence" (shells filled with eight electrons are especially stable).

In other words, electron-pair bonds are formed when two atoms share an edge, as in structure C below. This results in the sharing of two electrons. Similarly, charged ionic-bonds are formed by the transfer of an electron from one cube to another, without sharing an edge A. An intermediate state B where only one corner is shared was also postulated by Lewis. Hence, double bonds are formed by sharing a face between two cubic atoms. This results in the sharing of four electrons.

Moreover, noting that a cube has eight corners Lewis envisioned an atom as having eight sides available for electrons, like the corner of a cube. Subsequently, in 1902 he devised a conception in which cubic can bond on their sides to form cubic-structured molecules. In 1913, while working as the chair of the department of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley Lewis read a preliminary outline of paper by an English graduate student, Alfred Lauck Parson, who was visiting Berkeley for a year. In this paper, Parson suggested that the electron is not merely an electric charge but is also a small magnet (or "magneton" as he called it) and furthermore that a chemical bond results from two electrons being shared between two atoms. [7] This, according to Lewis, meant that bonding occurred when two electrons formed a shared edge between two complete cubes.
Lewis chemical bond
On these views, in his famous 1916 article The Atom and the Molecule, Lewis introduced the “Lewis structure” to represent atoms and molecules, where dots represent electrons and lines represent covalent bonds. [8] In this article, he developed the concept of the electron-pair bond, in which two atoms may share one to six electrons, thus forming the single electron bond, a single bond, a double bond, or a triple bond. In his own words: “An electron may form a part of the shell of two different atoms and cannot be said to belong to either one exclusively.”

Lewis proposed that an atom tended to form an ion by gaining or losing the number of electrons needed to complete a cube. Thus, Lewis structures show each atom in the structure of the molecule using its chemical symbol. Lines are drawn between atoms that are bonded to one another; occasionally, pairs of dots are used instead of lines. Excess electrons that form lone pairs are represented as pair of dots, and are placed next to the atoms on which they reside. To summarize his views on his new bonding model, Lewis stated:

“Two atoms may conform to the rule of eight, or the octet rule, not only by the transfer of electrons from one atom to another, but also by sharing one or more pairs of electrons...Two electrons thus coupled together, when lying between two atomic centers, and held jointly in the shells of the two atoms, I have considered to be the chemical bond. We thus have a concrete picture of that physical entity, that "hook and eye" which is part of the creed of the organic chemist.”

The subject of the history of chemical bonding theory goes into more on this.

Conservation of photons
Lewis was the person who coined the word photon. In a letter titled "The Conservation of Photons", dated October 29, 1926, to the editor of Nature magazine, Lewis wrote: [10]

“I therefore take the liberty of proposing for this hypothetical new atom, which is not light but plays an essential part in every process of radiation, the name photon.


See main: Founders of thermodynamics and suicide
Lewis, who is politely reported to have died from a heart attack, was found dead with a bottle of poisonous liquid hydrogen cyanide near his body, only hours after meeting with his long-time rival Irving Langmuir, who, it is said, won all the glory for Lewis' work.

Gilbert Lewis (youth)

Quotes | On
The following are quotes about Lewis:

“The influential textbook [Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances] of G.N. Lewis and Merle Randall led to the replacement of the term ‘affinity’ by the term ‘free energy’ [throughout] the English-speaking world.”
Henry Leicester (1956), The Historical Background of Chemistry [12]

“The fact that Lewis never was awarded the Nobel Prize for 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), Thread: “Entropy” [18]

Lewis, Randall and Guggenheim must be considered as the founders of modern chemical thermodynamics because of the major contributions of these two books in unifying the applications of thermodynamics to chemistry.”
Juliana Boerio-Goates (2000), Chemical Thermodynamics: Principles and Applications [2]

Gilbert Lewis (on entropy)
German thermodynamics historian Helge Kragh’s 2008 take on Lewis and his views on entropy, irreversibility, and the universe. [20]
Quotes | By
The following are noted quotes by Lewis:

“Perhaps our genius for unity will some time produce a science so broad as to include the behavior of a group of electrons and the behavior of a university faculty, but such a possibility seems now so remote that I for one would hesitate to guess whether this wonderful science would be more like mechanics or like a psychology.”
Gilbert Lewis (1925), The Anatomy of Science

Organic chemistry is one of the less mathematical sciences. The whole theory of structure requires about as much mathematics as a child needs for building houses with blocks.”
Gilbert Lewis (1925), The Anatomy of Science

“While I have flirted with many problems, I was for many years pretty loyal to the main task which I had set for myself, namely, to weave together the abstract equations of thermodynamics and the concrete data of chemistry into a single science. This is the part of my work in which I feel the greatest pride, partly because of its utility, and partly because it required a considerable degree of experimental skill. That part of my work therefore which has given me the greatest amount of personal satisfaction was the study of the free energy of formation of the most important compounds and, in particular, the electrode potentials of the elements.”
— Gilbert Lewis (1928), “Letter to James Partington” [21]

"Time is not one of the variables of pure thermodynamics."
Gilbert Lewis (1930), “The Symmetry of Time in Physics”

1. Lewis, Gilbert N. (1923). Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances (secretary: Merle Randall). McGraw-Hill.
2. Boerio-Goates, Juliana, and Ott, J., Bevan. (2000). Chemical Thermodynamics: Principles and Applications. Elsevier Academic Press.
3. Gilbert Newton Lewis: American Chemist (1875-1946) –
4. Edsall, J. T. (1974). "Some notes and queries on the development of bioenergetics. Notes on some "founding fathers" of physical chemistry: J. Willard Gibbs, Wilhelm Ostwald, Walther Nernst, Gilbert Newton Lewis". Mol. Cell. Biochem. Nov. 5 (1-2): 103–12.
5. Laidler, Keith J. (1993). The World of Physical Chemistry (pg. 437). Oxford University Press.
6. Cobb, Cathy (1995). Creations of Fire - Chemistry's Lively History From Alchemy to the Atomic Age. Perseus Publishing.
7. Parson, A.L. (1915). "A Magneton Theory of the Structure of the Atom". Smithsonian Publication 2371, Washington.
8. Lewis, Gilbert. (1916). “The Atom and the Molecule” (abstract), Journal of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 38, Jan. pgs. 762-86.
9. Valence and The Structure of Atoms and Molecules", G. N. Lewis, American Chemical Society Monograph Series, page 79 and 81.
10. (a) Lewis, Gilbert N. (1926). “Letter to the Editor of Nature”, Vol. 118, Part 2, December 18, page 874-875.
(b) Origin of the word “photon” –
11. Hildebrand, Joel H. (1947). “Gilbert Newton Lewis: 1875-1946”, Obituary Notices of the Royal Society, 5: 491-506.
12. Leicester, Henry M. (1956). The Historical Background of Chemistry (pg. 206). Dover.
13. Lewis, Gilbert N. (1925). The Anatomy of Science. Silliman Lectures; Yale University Press, 1926.
14. Butler, John A.V. (1946). "Life and the Second Law of Thermodynamics" (abs), Nature, 158: 153-154.
15. Coffey, Patrick. (2008). Cathedrals of Science: the Personalities and Rivalries that Made Modern Science (pg. 176; Silliman Lectures, pg. #). Oxford University Press.
16. LeMaster, Nancy and McGann, Diane. (date). “Gilbert Newton Lewis: American Chemist (1875-1946)” (caricature by William Jensen).
17. Weinhold, Frank. (2009). Classical and Geometrical Theory of Chemical and Phase Thermodynamics (pg. v). Wiley.
18. De Lange, A.M. (1998). “Entropy”, Oct 30,
19. Jensen, William B. (2011). “The Quantification of 20th-Century Chemical Thermodynamics: a Tribute to Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances” (pdf), Unpublished Lecture, Mar 28.
20. Kragh, Helge S. (2008). Entropic Creation: Religious Contexts of Thermodynamics and Cosmology (pg. 197). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
21. (a) Lewis, Gilbert. (1928). “Letter to James Partington” (dialogue on possible Nobel Prize). Publisher.
(b) Jolly, W.L. (1987). From Retorts to Lasers: the Story of Chemistry at Berkeley, College of Chemistry, University of California: Berkeley (pgs. 99-101). Publisher.,
(c) Jensen, William B. (2011). “The Quantification of 20th-Century Chemical Thermodynamics: a Tribute to Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances” (pdf), Unpublished Lecture, Symposium, Mar 28.

Further reading
● Lewis, Gilbert N. (1946). “Terrestrial Thermodynamics of an Ice Age: the cause and Sequence of Glaciation”, Science, 104: 43-47.
● Dunlap, Knight. (1946). “Terrestrial Thermodynamics of an Ice Age”, Science, 104, pg. 20.
● Davis, William M. and Dykstra, Clifford E. (2011). Physical Chemistry: A Modern Introduction (§: Point of Interest: Gilbert Newton Lewis, pgs. 119-21). CRC Press.

External links
Gilbert Lewis – Wikipedia.
Gilbert Lewis – Eric Weisstein’s World of Scientific Biography.

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