Kirkwood, John Gamble

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Kirkwood, John Gamble

(b. Gotebo, Oklahoma, 30 May 1907; d. New Haven, Connecticut, 9 August 1959)

theoretical chemistry.

Kirkwood received his early education in Wichita, Kansas. He studied for two years at the California Institute of Technology before enrolling at the University of Chicago in 1925, where he graduated B.S. in 1926. From February 1927 to June 1929 he did graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After several postdoctoral years in the United States and abroad, he assumed academic positions at Cornell University (1934), at the University of Chicago (1937), at the California Institute of Technology (1947), and at Yale University (1951), where he was Sterling professor of chemistry and head of the department.

Kirkwood married Gladys Danielson in 1930; their son John Millard Kirkwood, was born in 1935. They were divorced in 1951. In 1958 Kirkwood married Platonia Kaldes.

Kirkwood received many distinctions and honors, among them the American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry, the Theodore William Richards Medal, a Presidential Certificate of Appreciation, and honorary degrees from the University of Chicago and the Free University of Brussels. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and its foreign secretary from 1955 to 1958.

Kirkwood’s scientific contributions were in the theory of chemical physics and range over a wide variety of topics: polarizability and long-range interactions of molecules; dielectric properties of fluids; molecular distributions in fluids; systematic treatment of solutions, including order-disorder problems; the separation of proteins; the theory of shock and detonation waves; quantum statistics; and irreversible processes. In each of these fields his research was incisive and dominant. His topics were varied but his approach remained much the same. As an illustrative example, in his theories of irreversible processes he began his analysis with fundamentals (Liouville’s equation), carried his derivation as far as possible without further assumptions or approximations, then introduced constraints based on physical reasoning to obtain working equations (Boltzmann and Fokker-Planck equations). His penetrating derivations put the field of his interests on a firm foundation which pointed out the limitations of models and guided the way to future development. Kirkwood had many students and co-workers whom he inspired by his insight and high standards.


see John Gamble Kirkwood Collected Works, 8 vols. (New York, 1965-1968): Dielectrics-Intermolecular Forces-Optical Rotation (1965), R. H. Cole, ed.; Quantum Statistics and Cooperative Phenomena (1965), F. H. Stillinger, Jr., Ed.; Molecules (1967), P. L. Auer, ed.; Proteins (1967), G. Scatchard, ed.; Shock and Detonation Waves (1967), W. W. Wood, ed.; Selected Topics in Statistical Mechanics (1967), R. W. Zwanzig, ed.; Theory of Liquids (1968), B. J. Alder, ed.; Theory of Solutions (1968), Z. W. Salsburg, ed.

John Ross

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Kirkwood, John Gamble

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