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Percy Williams Bridgman

Percy Williams Bridgman (April 21, 1882 Cambridge, Massachusetts – August 20, 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.


Professional life

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 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). This was a huge improvement over previous machinery, which could achieve pressures of only 3000 kgf/cm² (0.3 GPa). This new apparatus led to a plethora of new findings, including on the effect of pressure on electrical resistance, and on the liquid and solid states. 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.

He made many improvements to his high pressure apparatus over the years, and attempted the synthesis of diamond many times. He never succeeded.[1]

His writings on the philosophy of science advocated operationalism. He was also one of the 11 signatories to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto.


Bridgman committed suicide by gunshot after living with 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."[2] Bridgman's words have been quoted by many on both sides of the assisted suicide debate.[3][4]


Bridgman received an honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Stevens Institute(1934), Harvard (1939), Brooklyn Polytechnic (1941), Princeton (1950), Paris (1950), and Yale (1951). He received the Rumford Medal (American Academy of Arts and Sciences), the Cresson Medal (Franklin Institute), the Roozeboom Medal (Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands), and the Comstock Prize (National Academy of Sciences). 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 (London).

Major works

  • 1922. Dimensional Analysis. Yale University Press
  • 1925. A Condensed Collection of Thermodynamics Formulas. Harvard University Press
  • 1927. The Logic of Modern Physics. Beaufort Books. Online excerpt.
  • 1934. Thermodynamics of Electrical Phenomena in Metals and a Condensed Collection of Thermodynamic Formulas. MacMillan.
  • 1936. The Nature of Physical Theory. John Wiley & Sons.
  • 1938. The Intelligent Individual and Society. MacMillan.
  • 1941. The Nature of Thermodynamics. Harper & Row, Publishers.
  • 1952. The Physics of High Pressure. G. Bell.
  • 1959. The Way Things Are. Harvard Univ. Press.
  • 1962. A Sophisticate's Primer of Relativity. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • 1964. Collected experimental papers. Harvard University Press.
  • 1980. Reflections of a Physicist. Arno Press; ISBN 040512595X

About Bridgman

  • Walter, Maila L., 1991. Science and Cultural Crisis: An Intellectual Biography of Percy Williams Bridgman (1882-1961). Stanford Univ. Press.

See also

  • Bridgman's Nobel Prize website
  • Percy W. Bridgman House

External links and references

  1. ^ Hazen, Robert (1999). The Diamond Makers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521654742. 
  2. ^ Nuland, Sherwin. How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter. Vintage Press, 1995. ISBN 0679742441.
  3. ^ Ayn Rand Institute discussion on assisted suicide
  4. ^ Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Percy_Williams_Bridgman". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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