A Nobel Man


Percy Williams Bridgman made some big contributions to the field of high pressure physics. He entered Harvard in 1908 earning a MA and a PhD.

Then began his experiments in 1908 on static high pressure physics. With the equipment he had he couldn’t go beyond 6,500 atmospheres. During his work he broke the equipment and came up with an idea to create a seal allowing for more pressure to be applied. The little gasket thingy has a pressure that always exceeds the pressurized fluid creating a self-sealing closure. The invention allowed him to push the pressure to over 100,000 atmospheres. He managed to eventually apply up to 400,000 atmospheres with the use of many of him own inventions.

Bridgman’s work only progressed because he paved the way with new equipment and tools. So cool! He measured the compressibilities of liquids and solids while studying the phase changes while they are under pressure. Including electrons in cesium becoming rearranged once they reach a certain pressure. Though he never managed to synthesize diamonds, he did create the ground work for other scientists to not only create diamonds but to synthesize many minerals. Using his research a new school of geology was created. So cool! 

He received the Nobel Prize in 1946 “for the invention of an apparatus to produce extremely high pressures, and for the discoveries he made therewith in the field of high pressure physics.”

Unfortunately he was diagnosed with cancer in 1961 and committed suicide in Randolph, NH. He was a told the cancer in his bones was going to be fatal within months or a year. His decision to end his own life was one of principle. He had placed a note in his his pocket when he took his life and said,”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.”

The National Academy of Sciences has a memoir on Bridgman that can be found here. At its conclusion, it lists his involvements and achievements as follows, “Bridgman was a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1918), the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society (president, 1942), foreign member of the Royal Society (London), honorary fellow of the Physical Society (London), a corresponding member of the Academia Nacional de Ciencias, Mexico, and a foreign member of the Indian Academy of Science. In addition to the 1946 Nobel Prize in physics, he was the recipient of the Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1917), the Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute (1932), the Roozenboom Medal of the Netherlands Royal Academy (1933), the Comstock Prize of the National Academy of Sciences (1933), the Research Corporation of America Award (1937), and the Bingham Medal of the Society of Rheology (1951). He held honorary doctor of science degrees from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (1934), Harvard University (1939), Stevens Institute of Technology (1941), Princeton University (1950), Yale University (1951), and the degree D. Honoris Causa, Paris (1950).” Staggering. And, so cool.