Newton Lewis (1875-1946)
Lewis was respected by knowledgeable contemporaries for his writing
and the excellence of his research, but valued as much for his clear
thinking, his scholarly enthusiasm, and his ability to lead other
was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, in 1875, but spent much of
his youth in Lincoln, Nebraska. After being schooled at home, he
was admitted in 1889 to a preparatory school associated with the
University of Nebraska. He entered Harvard College in 1893 and received
an A.B. degree in 1896. Following a year of teaching at the Phillips
Academy in Andover, he returned to Harvard and received his A.M.
degree in 1898 and his Ph.D. in 1899, under T. W. Richards. He spent
one year as an instructor at the college and then studied in Germany
with F. W. Ostwald and H. W. Nernst, before returning for three
more years as an instructor at Harvard.
was not satisfied with the research atmosphere at Harvard. Wanting
time to consider his future, he took a position in the Philippines
for one year to work in the Bureau of Science. When he returned
in 1905, he was invited to Massachusetts Institute of Technology
by A. A. Noyes, who had been a student of Ostwaldås. Lewis spent
seven years at MIT, where he published 30 papers and rose to a full
Lewis came to Berkeley in 1912, his first laboratories were in a
temporary wooden building. Awaiting state bond money, the
construction of Gilman Hall was delayed until 1916, and was first
occupied in September 1917. Gilman Hall's next quarter century came
to be known as the G. N. Lewis era.
times, Lewis spent his weekdays on campus, using a small bedroom
and shower in a Gilman Hall attic room, while his family lived in
the country. After the university ruled against living in its research
buildings, Lewis moved into the nearby Faculty Club.
was rarely in the classroom, but his weekly research seminar set
the standard for the College of Chemistry. Two hundred and ninety
Ph.D.s were granted under Lewis and his colleagues. He worked with
great intensity and had a series of research assistants for experimental
work. He took only a few graduate students, although many other
students worked with younger faculty on projects within Lewis's
broad area of interest.
N. Lewis's publications covered, among other things, relativity,
natural radioactivity, refraction of neutrons, acid-base properties,
and classical and statistical thermodynamics. He is often quoted
as having said that "physical chemistry is anything which is
interesting." Most chemists remember Lewis best for his octet
theory and the electron-pair bonding diagrams, which he first published
in 1916, and for the generalized theory of acids and bases, which
bears his name. His most famous book, Thermodynamics and the
Free Energy of Chemical Substances, written with Merle Randall,
was published in 1923.
C. Urey (a 1923 UC-Berkeley Ph.D., and 1934 Nobel laureate) had
discovered deuterium at Columbia University in 1932. Lewis actively
pursued the new field of deuterium chemistry, and between 1932 and
1934, he published more than 25 papers on the topic. Later in the
1930s, Lewis returned to the theories of acids and bases, and a
1938 lecture at the Franklin Institute "did much to make the
Lewis acid an important part of chemical theory."
to the increased popularity of the field of photochemistry in the
1930s, Lewis published, with Melvin Calvin, a long review of the
theory of color. Lewis continued his studies of fluorescence and
phosphorescence and published several important papers about quantum
March 23, 1946, Gilbert Newton Lewis died in his Gilman Hall laboratory,
while carrying out an experiment on fluorescence.