Percy Williams Bridgman

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Percy Williams Bridgman
Born (1882-04-21)21 April 1882
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Died 20 August 1961(1961-08-20) (aged 79)
Randolph, New Hampshire, United States
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Institutions Harvard University
Alma mater Harvard University
Doctoral advisor Wallace Clement Sabine
Doctoral students Francis Birch
Gerald Holton
John C. Slater
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck
Known for High pressure physics
Operational definition
Notable awards Rumford Prize (1917)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1932)
Comstock Prize in Physics (1933)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1946)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1949)[1]
Bingham Medal (1951)

Percy Williams Bridgman (21 April 1882 – 20 August 1961) was an American physicist who won the 1946 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the physics of high pressures. He also wrote extensively on the scientific method and on other aspects of the philosophy of science.[2][3][4]


Bridgman entered Harvard University in 1900, and studied physics through to his Ph.D. From 1910 until his retirement, he taught at Harvard, becoming a full professor in 1919. In 1905, he began investigating the properties of matter under high pressure. A machinery malfunction led him to modify his pressure apparatus; the result was a new device enabling him to create pressures eventually exceeding 100,000 kgf/cm2 (10 GPa; 100,000 atmospheres). This was a huge improvement over previous machinery, which could achieve pressures of only 3,000 kgf/cm2 (0.3 GPa). This new apparatus led to an abundance of new findings, including a study of the compressibility, electric and thermal conductivity, tensile strength and viscosity of more than 100 different compounds. Bridgman is also known for his studies of electrical conduction in metals and properties of crystals. He developed the Bridgman seal and is the eponym for Bridgman's thermodynamic equations.

Bridgman made many improvements to his high pressure apparatus over the years, and unsuccessfully attempted the synthesis of diamond many times.[5]

His philosophy of science book The Logic of Modern Physics (1927) advocated operationalism and coined the term operational definition. In 1938 he participated in the International Committee composed to organise the International Congresses for the Unity of Science.[6] He was also one of the 11 signatories to the Russell–Einstein Manifesto.


Bridgman committed suicide by gunshot after suffering from 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."[7] Bridgman's words have been quoted by many in the assisted suicide debate.[8][9]

Honors and awards

Bridgman received Doctors, honoris causa from Stevens Institute (1934), Harvard (1939), Brooklyn Polytechnic (1941), Princeton (1950), Paris (1950), and Yale (1951). He received the Bingham Medal (1951) from the Society of Rheology, the Rumford Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1919), the Elliott Cresson Medal (1932) from the Franklin Institute, the Gold Medal from Bakhuys Roozeboom Fund (founder Hendrik Willem Bakhuis Roozeboom) (1933) from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences,[10] and the Comstock Prize (1933) of the National Academy of Sciences.[11] He was a member of the American Physical Society and was its President in 1942. He was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. He was a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and Honorary Fellow of the Physical Society of London.

The Percy W. Bridgman House, in Massachusetts, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark designated in 1975.[12]

In 2014, the Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification (CNMNC) of the International Mineralogical Association (IMA) approved the name bridgmanite for perovskite-structured (Mg,Fe)SiO3,[13] the Earth's most abundant mineral,[14] in honor of his high-pressure research.


See also


  1. Newitt, D. M. (1962). "Percy Williams Bridgman 1882–1961". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 8: 26–40. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1962.0003.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Percy W. Bridgman". Physics Today. 14 (10): 78. 1961. doi:10.1063/1.3057180.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Bridgman, P. (1914). "A Complete Collection of Thermodynamic Formulas". Physical Review. 3 (4): 273–281. Bibcode:1914PhRv....3..273B. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.3.273.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Bridgman, P. W. (1956). "Probability, Logic, and ESP". Science. 123 (3184): 15–17. Bibcode:1956Sci...123...15B. doi:10.1126/science.123.3184.15. PMID 13281470.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Hazen, Robert (1999), The Diamond Makers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-65474-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Neurath, Otto (1938). "Unified Science as Encyclopedic Integration". International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. 1 (1): 1–27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Nuland, Sherwin. How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter. Vintage Press, 1995. ISBN 0-679-74244-1.
  8. Ayn Rand Institute discussion on assisted suicide. Retrieved on 2012-01-28.
  9. Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization. (2003-06-13). Retrieved on 2012-01-28.
  10. "Bakhuys Roozeboom Fund laureates". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 13 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Comstock Prize in Physics". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 13 February 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. James Sheire (February 1975), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Percy Bridgman House / Bridgman House-Buckingham School (PDF), National Park Service, retrieved 2009-06-22<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> and Accompanying one photo, exterior, from 1975 PDF (519 KB)
  13. page on bridgmanite. Retrieved on 2014-06-03.
  14. Murakami, M.; Sinogeikiin S.V.; Hellwig H.; Bass J.D.; Li J. (2007). "Sound velocity of MgSiO3 perovskite to Mbar pressure" (PDF). Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Elsevier. 256: 47–54. Bibcode:2007E&PSL.256...47M. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2007.01.011. Retrieved 7 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Kovarik, A. F. (1929). "Review: The Logic of Modern Physics by P. W. Bridgman" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 35 (3): 412–413. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1929-04767-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Riepe, D. (1950). "Book Review: Reflections of a Physicist, by P. W. Bridgman". Popular Astronomy. 58: 367–368. Bibcode:1950PA.....58..367R.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Walter, Maila L., 1991. Science and Cultural Crisis: An Intellectual Biography of Percy Williams Bridgman (1882–1961). Stanford Univ. Press.
  • McMillan, Paul F (2005), "Pressing on: the legacy of Percy W. Bridgman.", Nature Materials (published Oct 2005), 4 (10), pp. 715–8, Bibcode:2005NatMa...4..715M, doi:10.1038/nmat1488, PMID 16195758<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Theodore Lyman
Hollis Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy
Succeeded by
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck