Johannes Diderik van der Waals
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1910
Born: 23 November 1837, Leiden, the Netherlands
Died: 8 March 1923, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Affiliation at the time of the award: Amsterdam University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Prize motivation: “for his work on the equation of state for gases and liquids”
Prize share: 1/1
Johannes Diderik van der Waals worked as a teacher in Leiden. He wanted to pursue university studies, but lacked training in classical languages, which was a requirement. Instead, he began attending lectures in physics in his free time. Once the classical language requirements were eliminated, he quickly completed his degree, and in 1876 he became professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam. In his work with the equation of state for gases and liquids, for which he received the Nobel Prize, he also studied the forces between molecules, which are called van der Waals forces in his honor.
The matter around us assumes different forms: solid, fluid or gaseous. The relationship between the volume, pressure and temperature of gases has been formulated since the 17th century. In 1873 Johannes van der Waals formulated an equation of state that applies to both gases and liquids. In it he introduced the idea that molecules attract one another to explain why the laws governing gases do not apply under high pressure. In 1880 he formulated the principle that a gas can be fully described if the critical temperature at which the gas liquefies is known.