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Rudolf P. Huebener
Institute of Physics, Experimental Physics II, University of Tübingen
D–72076 Tübingen, Germany

(January, 2013)


Fig. 1. Walther Nernst, 1864 - 1941 (drawing by Hermann Struck, 1922, private loan).
Walther Hermann Nernst (1864 - 1941) was a German physicist and physical chemist and one of the founding fathers of the field of physical chemistry. In 1920 he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the third law of thermodynamics. After Max Planck (the 1918 Physics Nobel Prize winner) had proposed his famous radiation law in 1900, thereby initiating quantum physics, Nernst and many coworkers performed systematic calorimetric experiments at low temperatures supporting the new quantum concepts. During the First World War Nernst actively attempted to reach an early ending of the war by means of peace negotiations.

Walther Nernst was born on June 25, 1864 in Briesen (today Wabrzeno, Poland) located in West Prussia at the time. Only a little later, the family moved to nearby Graudenz (today Grudziadz, Poland). Here Nernst attended the Royal Protestant Gymnasium. On Easter 1883 he obtained his Abitur. During his childhood and youth Nernst frequently spent the weekends and vacations at the demesne Engelsburg, located nearby, which his uncle, Rudolf Nerger, had leased. Theses visits started the special fondness of Nernst for the life in the country-side for the rest of his life.

Studies at Zurich, Berlin, and Graz

In April 1883 Nernst began his studies of mathematics, chemistry, and physics at the University of Zurich. Already after the summer term he left Zurich, and in October 1883 he continued his studies at the Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin. In the fall of 1885 he moved to the Karl-Franzens University in Graz with the intention to attend classes in theoretical physics and to collaborate in particular with Ludwig Boltzmann. It turned out that he worked most closely with Albert von Ettingshausen, to whom he developed an intimate friendship. In his memorial remarks on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Albert von Ettingshausen in 1930 Nernst recalled:

"My hope to work also with Boltzmann in theoretical physics could not be realized, since at the time Boltzmann only offered the lecture for beginners in experimental physics. However, … I became richly compensated by the daily experimental collaboration with Prof. von Ettingshausen, in particular since Boltzmann showed an increasing interest in our results."

Then Nernst continued:

"Following a suggestion by Boltzmann, we started with a measuring investigation of Hall’s phenomenon along different directions … we became acquainted with the group of the thermomagnetic and galvanomagnetic effects, which because of their peculiarity already then generated a certain amount of interest."

These effects discovered by Nernst together with Albert von Ettingshausen are named after them today. The winter term 1886/87 Nernst spent at the Julius-Maximilians University in Wurzburg. Here in 1887 he obtained his Ph.D. under Friedrich Kohlrausch with a thesis entitled “On the electromotoric forces generated by the magnetism in metal plates carrying a heat current”. His dissertation dealt with the experiments which he had performed in Graz together with von Ettingshausen.

Turning to physical chemistry and electrochemistry

Still in 1887 Nernst accepted a position as assistant of Wilhelm Ostwald in the newly founded Institute of Physical Chemistry of the latter in Leipzig. Due to the collaboration with Ostwald, Nernst turned to problems of physical chemistry. It is interesting, that he left the field of his experiments in Graz, because these effects

"are likely to find a satisfactory theoretical interpretation only after the theory of the metallic conduction will be developed further".

These are the words of Nernst expressed in 1930. As we know today, the theory of the metallic conduction had to wait until about 1930, when the electronic band structure of crystals had been conceived. It appears that already as a young man Nernst showed his great vision by switching his field and by becoming one of the founding fathers of physical chemistry together with Wilhelm Ostwald, Svante Arrhenius (the 1903 Chemistry Nobel Prize winner), and Jacobus van’t Hoff.

In Leipzig Nernst became interested in electrochemistry and, through his contributions, became one of the founding fathers also of modern electrochemistry together with Julius Tafel. His most important contribution was a theory of the electrode potential in electrolytes, resulting in what was subsequently called the “Nernst equation”. The Nernst equation gives the equilibrium potential of an electrode as a function of the concentration (more precisely “activity”) of the oxidized and reduced species at the electrode surface. This equation was then, and still is today, the most basic equation in equilibrium electrochemistry. This seminal paper was published in 1889 in the Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie, Stöchiometrie und Verwandtschaftslehre and it is available on the WWW. Another of his important contributions was the discovery of the “liquid junction potential”, also published in the above journal in 1888 (available on the WWW). His work connected thermodynamics with electrochemistry and was based on the ideas of Jacobus van’t Hoff on the osmotic pressure in solutions and the dissociation theory of Svante Arrhenius. He treated the liberation of ions in a galvanic cell in terms of the thermodynamic formalism describing the evaporation of steam. The increasing concentration of ions can do work, similarly as the rising pressure of steam can push a piston. In his habilitation thesis of 1889 entitled “The electromotoric effectiveness of ions” he summarized these results.

In 1890 Nernst moved to Göttingen in order to take up the position of an assistant at the Physical Institute of the University, directed by Eduard Riecke. There he continued his research in the area of electrochemistry and physical chemistry. Also he moved up on the academic ladder, in 1891 becoming Extraordinarius of physical chemistry, and in 1894 Ordinarius and director of the newly established “Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry”. At the time Nernst had received offers from various other universities including Munich, where Ludwig Boltzmann wanted to see him as his successor. Accommodation of the new institute had been found in an existing villa in a well-sized lot located close to the Chemical Institute. In 1895 the villa was severely modified, and a larger and a smaller annex were constructed. At the end of the year Nernst could start working in the new space.

In Göttingen Nernst wrote the textbook “Theoretical Chemistry from the Viewpoint of Avogadro’s Rule and Thermodynamics”, which appeared in 1893 and which saw many new editions. In addition, in 1897 he published the book “Introduction to the Mathematical Treatment of the Natural Sciences - A Short Textbook of Differential and Integral Calculus with a Special Emphasis on Chemistry”, for which he could enlist the cooperation of Arthur Schönflies, his colleague from mathematics. With his books Nernst demonstrated his strong desire to spread the new insights gained in physical chemistry and to support the people who became interested in this new field.

The modern field of physical chemistry and in particular its representative in Göttingen, which had become famous in the meantime, were the reason, why the new Institute attracted students from all over the world and soon became overcrowded, such that an expansion was necessary. In this context, the contacts with industry, which Nernst had established, became important.

Contacts with industry – the “Nernst Lamp”

At the end of the 19th century the technology of artificial illumination, both inside and outside of buildings, had turned into an important subject with a strong impact on the electric industry. In 1879 in the USA Thomas Alva Edison had constructed the first lamp having a carbon filament, and in 1881 he built the first light-bulb factory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. One year later in Germany Emil Rathenau founded a company with the intention to promote the wide use of Edison’s invention. In 1887 the Allgemeine Deutsche Elektrizitätsgesellschaft (AEG) emerged from this company. (At the time the company founded by Werner Siemens concentrated exclusively on the fabrication of arc lamps based on the electric discharge between two carbon electrodes). Walther Nernst also participated in the development of the technology for electric illumination. The result of this work was his invention of the “Nernst lamp”, for which in 1897 he applied for a patent. The Nernst lamp consisted of a glowing piece made of an oxide mixture which was heated by an electric current. However, in order to achieve the current flow, this piece had to be heated by a separate heating device. Compared to the carbon-arc lamps, the Nernst lamp had the advantage, that the expensive evacuation, required in the production process of the former in order to keep the heated filament from burning, was not necessary. The Nernst lamp could and even had to burn in air. On the other hand, the operation of the Nernst lamp was relatively complicated. Therefore, this technology did not succeed in the long run. However, initially Nernst was able to sell his patent to the AEG. It is estimated that during about half a decade several thousand Nernst lamps were produced per day by the AEG. In 1900 at the World Exhibition in Paris the pavilion of the AEG was illuminated using Nernst lamps.

In 1898 the proceeds from his lamp allowed Nernst to finance another annex to his Institute. (The necessary sum of 40 000 Mark required that the German Emperor Wilhelm II gave his approval). His special interest in advanced technical subjects can also be seen from the fact that in 1898 Nernst bought his first automobile, being the first car in the town of Göttingen. During his life he owned a total of 18 cars, and at times as many as four simultaneously. The mechanism of the automobile and the internal combustion engine fascinated him, and for a while he studied the explosive burning of gasoline.

Berlin and the “Third Law of Thermodynamics”

Since Nernst had become already world famous in Göttingen, there existed increasing attempts to attract him to the leading location of German science at the time, namely to Berlin. So in April 1905 Nernst accepted the offer by the University of Berlin of the Chair of Physical Chemistry as the successor of Hans Landolt. Apparently during his inaugural lecture in Berlin in August 1905, he announced his perhaps most important discovery, for which he would later receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Nernst’s Thermal Theorem, which soon afterwards was referred to as the Third Law of Thermodynamics. This theorem indicates that at the temperature of absolute zero, the reaction entropy vanishes. Nernst had developed a strong interest in the properties of materials at low temperatures. This was motivated by the new quantum physics, created originally by Max Planck (the 1918 Physics Nobel Prize winner) and subsequently extended in important ways by Albert Einstein (the 1921 Physics Nobel Prize winner).

Nernst liked to refer to his discovery as his thermal theorem, and he pointed out the following numerical curiosity: The First Law had three authors, Mayer, Joule, and Helmholtz; the Second Law hat two, Carnot and Clausius; however, the Third Law was discovered by one person only, Nernst. This would show convincingly, that thermodynamics was now complete, since a hypothetical Fourth Law would have zero authors.

His skills as a businessman had helped Nernst to purchase a sizeable villa in Berlin and to acquire the reputation of being the most hospitable professor.

Quantum physics

In his famous radiation law of 1900 Planck proposed that the energy of the black-body radiation is quantized, that is, it does not vary continuously, but instead consists of discontinuous “packages hν”, where “h” is Planck’s constant and “ν” the frequency of the radiation. Whereas initially Planck felt much discomfort about his revolutionary discovery, it was Einstein who took the quantization of energy literally, in 1905 introducing the concept of the light quanta (photons) and in 1906 extending the quantization to the lattice vibrations in crystals (phonons), published in 1907. Einstein’s ideas for the first time explained the fact that at low temperatures the specific heat of crystals strongly decreases with decreasing temperature. In 1912 the Einstein model of the specific heat was much improved by Pieter Debye, who included the complete frequency spectrum of the lattice vibrations in his theory, instead of only the single frequency (“Einstein frequency”) considered by Einstein.

It is important to note that Einstein’s breakthrough with his concept about quantum physics initially met skepticism and strong mistrust. We illustrate this by quoting the following passage from a letter from Arnold Sommerfeld to Hendrik A. Lorentz from December 26, 1907 (D. K. Barkan, 1999):

"Now we are all ardently waiting for you to address the whole complex of Einstein’s papers. As brilliant as these papers are, it still seems to me that something almost unhealthy lies in this not construable and not intuitive dogmatism. An Englishman would hardly have conceived this theory; it might be that here too … the abstract conceptual manner of the Semite finds expression. Hopefully you will succeed in endowing this dazzling conceptual skeleton with real physical life."

In particular it has been Nernst, who recognized early the importance of Einstein’s 1907 paper on the quantization of the lattice vibrations and the low-temperature specific heat, and who promoted this work of Einstein. During a trip to Switzerland in the first week of March 1910 Nernst had visited Einstein in Zurich, and on March 10, 1910 he wrote to Arthur Schuster, whom he had planned to visit in England subsequently (D. K. Barkan, 1999):

"On my trip here I visited Prof. Einstein in Zürich. It was for me an extremely stimulating and interesting meeting. I believe that, as regards the development of physics, we can be very happy to have such an original young thinker, a “Boltzmann redivivus”; the same certainty and speed of thought; great boldness in theory, which however cannot harm, since the most intimate contact with experiment is preserved. Einstein’s “quantum hypothesis” is probably among the most remarkable thought [constructions] ever; if it is correct, then it indicates completely new paths both for the so-called “physics of the ether” and for all molecular theories; if it is false, well, then it will remain for all times “a beautiful memory."

In order to perform measurements of the properties of materials at low temperatures, Nernst constructed a hydrogen liquefier. He did not want to invest long periods for engineering developments, as had been spent in the Institute of Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in Leiden. Therefore, without extended calculations Nernst outlined the apparatus, which soon afterwards was built by the mechanic of his Institute. In this endeavor Nernst obtained some advice from his colleague Otto Wiener in Leipzig, who also operated a hydrogen liquefier. In a letter to Otto Wiener of October 27, 1910 Nernst wrote:

"I have procured a small apparatus for the liquefaction of hydrogen, with which one can use commercial hydrogen bombs. However, I have no experience yet with it. I plan to measure the true specific heats at temperatures as low as possible for testing Einstein’s theory and, hence, also indirectly Planck’s radiation law."

In another letter to Wiener of November 27, 1910 Nernst reported:

"In the meantime I have built for myself an apparatus for the liquefaction of hydrogen, which does not yield larger quantities, but which allows to cool small glass vessels down to T = 21oK [-252oC or -422oF] and to keep any temperature between liquid air and liquid hydrogen fairly constant."

With the liquefier about 300 - 400 cm3 liquid hydrogen were obtained per hour. In addition to this liquefier, the vacuum calorimeter developed by Nernst played an important role in the low-temperature experiments he carried out with many coworkers at the time. In his obituary for Walther Nernst of 1943 Klaus Clusius recalled:

"From 1910 until the first years of the First World War Nernst, at the summit of his power and supported by a group of highly motivated coworkers, in a restless exertion clarified the basic facts about the behavior of the heat content at low temperatures."

With his involvement in the exiting development of quantum physics Nernst became convinced that a detailed discussion of all experts in a special conference was much needed. Therefore he organized the famous First Solvay Conference on the “Theory of the Quanta and the Radiation” from October 30 until November 3, 1911 in Brussels, bringing together many of the leading physicists of the time. For the financing of this conference Nernst had been able to get the support of the Belgian scientist and businessman Ernest Solvay. Arnold Eucken acted as one of the conference secretaries.

For the Solvay Conference Einstein had written a report “On the Current State of the Problem of Specific Heat”, almost fifty pages long, in which he presented a programmatic overview of the status of the quantum physics. In addition to Einstein, also Planck, Sommerfeld, and Nernst had prepared summarizing reports dealing with quantum physics. During the summer of 1913 an important event for Nernst was his trip to Zurich together with Max Planck with their attempt to win Albert Einstein for accepting a position in Berlin as a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences and Professor without any teaching obligation. Their visit turned out to be successful. In 1912 Einstein (the 1921 Physics Nobel Prize winner) had just accepted an offer from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule. In Berlin Nernst had been able to persuade the banker Leopold Koppel to contribute a considerable increase of Einstein’s salary. It is said that Nernst himself regarded the fact, that Einstein had been won for Berlin, as his greatest achievement in the organization of science.

Patriotic citizen and the First World War

Initially Nernst participated in the First World War as a member of the Imperial Voluntary Automobilkorps. After 1915 he served as a scientific advisor to the Trench-Mortar Battalion I. He was supposed to look into improvements of explosives. He rejected the use of deadly poisonous gas. During the war Nernst had lost his two sons. Already at an early stage of the war Nernst had recognized that Germany had no chance of winning. Therefore, he felt strongly that the war must be ended as quickly as possible.

In a practical peace mission Nernst met in Brussels several times the Belgian businessman and banker Franz Philippson of German descent, so during May 1915, June and November 1916, and finally during December 1917. In 1915 and 1916 Nernst went to these meetings under the instructions of the German Reichskanzler Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, to whom he had also suggested this idea. However, after Bethmann-Hollweg was toppled during July 1917, the German Supreme Army Command under Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff could expand its power considerably against the national Government. So in December 1917 Nernst went to the meeting only because of his own motivation.

In his book “The World of Walther Nernst” Kurt Mendelssohn (1973) explicitly tells about the dramatic turn in the war in 1917 due to the fact that Germany started the unrestricted submarine warfare, which caused the United States to enter the war joining the Allies. From this book we quote a section dealing with the depressing experience Nernst had during a special audience with the German Kaiser:

"With Ludendorff in command of politics, it was clear that the Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, had lost his battle against unrestricted submarine warfare and it was equally certain that, once this was declared, America would enter the war. With great clarity Nernst foresaw that a negotiated peace would become impossible and that the war must end with the downfall of the Hohenzollern monarchy. In the course of the years and with Nernst’s frequent visits to the palace, the Kaiser had come to treat him as a personal friend. Now at the height of crisis, Nernst considered it his duty to put before the Kaiser his own depressing analysis of the situation as a warning of doom. He requested an audience which was immediately granted and which took place at Army Headquarters with Hindenburg and Ludendorff present. Nernst outlined the immense boost which the limitless American potential would give to the war effort of the Allies and he compared it with the rapidly dwindling German resources. The Kaiser and Hindenburg listened in silence when Nernst began to speak but Ludendorff interrupted him straightaway. He brushed aside Nernst’s arguments as incompetent nonsense with which a civilian was wasting his time, a professor who was only able to make a fuss because the Kaiser happened to like him."

We all know the catastrophe foreseen by Nernst, and how it shaped the history of the 20th century.

During the dark days of 1917 Nernst wrote his monograph “The Theoretical and Experimental Foundation of the New Thermal Theorem”, the first edition of which appeared in 1918. This monograph contained the research results of his school dealing with the Third Thermal Law during the period 1906 - 1916. From then on he gradually lost interest in physical chemistry and turned to other subjects.

During the academic year 1921/22 he was elected Rector of the University of Berlin. The assassination of Walther Rathenau, Foreign Secretary of Germany and a close friend of Nernst, on June 24, 1922 shattered him severely. On the occasion of his speech at the annual memorial celebration of the founder of the University of Berlin on August 3, 1922 Nernst condemned the murder directly and the murder thread indirectly in front of the public. We quote from this speech:

"Only a few days before his [Rathenau’s] death, one evening in a small group in my home we discussed certain questions of the international scientific exchange; then he expressed the beautiful word that for the recovery of Europe it would mean a progress, if at least a few areas of human culture could be withdrawn from the battle of the daily politics."

In particular during the time when Nernst was Rector he played an important role in the establishment of the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft (equivalent of, say, the National Science Foundation in the USA), supporting young research workers and financing projects beyond the means of universities. Due to his high international reputation and his close contacts to the top people of Government, in 1921 Nernst was offered the post of German Ambassador to the United States, which he declined.

President of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt

On December 10, 1921 Nernst received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Stockholm for the year 1920. He was honored for the discovery of his Thermal Theorem. A little later, on April 1, 1922 he was appointed as President of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt in Berlin as the successor of Emil Warburg and as the 4th President of this institution. As a Board Member of the Reichsanstalt since 1905 Nernst was well familiar with its activities.

The Reichsanstalt had been founded in 1887, mainly at the initiative of Werner Siemens and Hermann von Helmholtz. Because of the rapidly developing industry, in particular in the fields of high technology, during the last decades of the 19th century there existed a strong need for an institution supported by Government, where systematic fundamental research in areas of physics relevant for industry was performed. After much discussion with people from Government and within the German Reichstag (Parliament), in 1887 the needed initial finances were approved by the Parliament, and during March 1888 Hermann von Helmholtz could start with the new institution as its first President.

Taking the example of the Optical Laboratory at the Reichsanstalt, we note again that during the last decades of the 19th century the artificial illumination turned into a technology having a dominating impact on the electric industry. In addition to the petroleum lamp and gas illumination, the electric light source was coming up. A major breakthrough for the electric lamps occurred after in 1867 Werner Siemens had discovered the electrodynamic principle of the generation of electric current. Due to these developments there existed a strong need for improvements of photometry and the quantitative measurements of light intensity, leading to generally accepted standards for this quantity. As a result the Optical Laboratory of the Reichsanstalt was instituted and charged with the tasks we have just indicated. The measurements of the frequency distribution of the intensity of the black-body radiation then lead to Max Planck’s (the 1918 Physics Nobel Prize winner) formulation of his famous radiation law and the quantization of energy, as we have discussed above. For these measurements a special black-body radiation source had been developed.

During his tenure as President of the Reichsanstalt Nernst strengthened in particular the Chemical Laboratory. He brought in Walter Noddack, his former student, who in 1923 became the head of the Chemical Laboratory. During the subsequent years Walter Noddack together with his wife Ida Noddack, née Tacke, gained world-wide fame by succeeding for the first time in the isolation of the element rhenium.

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of Nernst as President of the Reichsanstalt resulted from his recognition that the experimentally working staff needed support by a theoretical physicist. Therefore, in 1923 he proposed to the Board the appointment of a theoretician, and in 1924 he was able to hire Max von Laue, acting as a consultant during one day per week. This should turn out as a most important step, in particular in the case of the Low-Temperature Laboratory.

Already in 1920 Walther Meissner, head of the Low-Temperature Laboratory, had considered the possibility to install a facility for the liquefaction of helium and thereby extending the available temperature range to lower values. During March 1925 helium was liquefied at the Reichsanstalt for the first time. Worldwide Meissner’s laboratory was the third location, where experiments in the temperature range of liquid helium could be performed (after Leiden in Holland and Toronto in Canada). One of the important subjects studied by Meissner dealt with the low-temperature phenomenon of superconductivity, and he succeeded in discovering about half a dozen new superconductors. In addition to looking for new superconducting materials, Meissner was also interested in their fundamental and particularly in their magnetic properties. In this context he was supported by Max von Laue, who suggested accurate magnetic-field measurements near the surface of a superconductor during the superconducting phase-transition. The result of this endeavor was the discovery of the Meissner effect, which is the complete expulsion of a magnetic field from the interior of a superconductor. This effect represents the most fundamental property of a superconductor, and its discovery was a turning point in the field. Now superconductivity could be understood in terms of a new phase in thermodynamic equilibrium, and subsequently the theory advanced in great steps. The role of Walther Nernst in bringing in Max von Laue cannot be overemphasized.

Gradually Nernst started to dislike his duties as President of the Reichsanstalt, which kept him too much away from his scientific activities. So on April 30, 1924 he resigned from this office. Instead he accepted the position of the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Berlin. This position had been vacant since the death of Heinrich Rubens in 1922.

Professor of experimental physics in Berlin 1924 - 1933

In 1922 Max Ernst August Bodenstein had become Nernst’s successor at the Institute of Physical Chemistry in Berlin. In his Institute of Experimental Physics Nernst turned to problems of astrophysics and to the cosmological implications of the second law of thermodynamics. He had developed an interest in these subjects already as a student in Graz in 1886, when he read the text of the inaugural lecture by Ludwig Boltzmann at the Academy in Vienna. In this lecture Boltzmann discussed the heat death of the universe as an unavoidable consequence of the second law of thermodynamics.

As President of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt Nernst had paid special attention to the upcoming subject of cosmic radiation and had supported the corresponding activities of the Laboratory for Radioactivity at the Reichsanstalt. Nernst had recognized that in order to clarify the origin of the cosmic radiation, the development of special instrumentation and measurements in the high mountains of the Alps were needed. Because of his suggestion, a permanent research station was set up at the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland under Werner Heinrich Kolhörster. During the summer of 1923, Nernst together with Kolhörster and Hans Geiger, participated in such a measuring campaign at the Jungfraujoch. At the time these activities were highly important for the existence of cosmic radiation becoming gradually accepted by the scientific community and for clarifying its origin from regions of outer space (instead of regions within the earth).

After his discovery of the Third Law, Nernst always felt that this law must also apply to gases, although he had been able to derive it only for liquids and solids. He had called the effect in the case of a gas “gas degeneracy”, which remained unobserved for twenty years. Only the new concepts of the quantum mechanics of the late 1920s and the fundamental role of the symmetry of the wave function provided the answer, with the consequences of the Bose-Einstein and the Fermi-Dirac statistics.

During his time as Director of the Experimental Physics Institute and beyond Nernst occupied himself with another technical invention: the Neo-Bechstein Grand Piano. This invention dealt with the electronic generation of music, and Nernst was able to arrange a cooperation with the Siemens & Halske Company. Among the early electronic musical instruments Nernst’s grand piano was the most successful economically, because it was produced only in series of 150 copies. Immediately after the announcement of the instrument, 10 instruments were bought by the American entertainment industry. Also the radio stations used the grand piano for some time. Today functioning Neo-Bechstein Grand Pianos from the 1930s can be found only in museums.

The final years

In 1922 Nernst had bought for the third and last time a country estate, this time the manor Oberzibelle in the village Zibelle (today Niwica, Poland) located in Upper Lusatia (Oberlausitz) near the town Bad Muskau at the border to Poland. Subsequently he spent predominantly weekends and his summer vacations at this property. After his official retirement from the University of Berlin in 1933 he made it his permanent residence. Shortly after Hitler came to power, Nernst was removed from the Senate of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Society. He was clearly in opposition to the Nazi regime. Two of his daughters, who had married into Jewish families, were living abroad. On November 18, 1941 Walther Nernst died at his manor Oberzibelle. The urn with his ashes has been placed in the Zentralfriedhof in Göttingen next to the graves of Max Planck and of Max von Laue.

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  • Die Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt – Ihre Bedeutung beim Aufbau der modernen Physik, R. Huebener and H. Luebbig, Vieweg+Teubner, Wiesbaden, 2011.

  • A Focus of Discoveries, R. P. Huebener and H. Luebbig, World Scientific, Singapore, 2008.

  • Walther Nernst – Pioneer of Physics and of Chemistry, H.-G. Bartel and R. P. Huebener, World Scientific, Singapore, 2007.

  • Walther Nernst and the Transition to Modern Physical Science, D. K. Barkan, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999.

  • The World of Walther Nernst – The Rise and Fall of German Science, K. Mendelssohn, Macmillan, London, 1973.

  • Die elektromotorische Wirksamkeit der Ionen, W. H. Nernst, “Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie, Stöchiometrie und Verwandtschaftslehre” Vol. 4, pp 129-181, 1889. Available on the WWW.

  • Zur Kinetik der in Lösung befindlichen Körper, W. H. Nernst, “Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie, Stöchiometrie und Verwandtschaftslehre” Vol. 2, pp 613-637, 1888. Available on the WWW.

Listings of electrochemistry books, review chapters, proceedings volumes, and full text of some historical publications are also available in the Electrochemistry Science and Technology Information Resource (ESTIR). (

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