HOME»Workshop»TimeLine for Thermodynamics

The following timeline traces the development of thermodynamics and molecular theory, especially as they apply to fluids and fluid mixtures. The timeline is far from complete—I'm still adding to it—but even in its incomplete state, it might prove interesting to some.

1750 1800 1850 1900 1950
Date Event
1643 Evangelista Torricelli upends a tube of mercury into a dish of mercury, thereby inventing the barometer and demonstrating that the earth's atmosphere has weight.
1686 Isaac Newton publishes the first edition of Principia Mathematica.
1711 First low-pressure steam engine, with boiler, piston, and cylinder, begins continuous service. It was constructed by Newcomen using a design published by Dionysius Papin in 1690.
1714 Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit constructs the first mercury thermometer.
1724 G. D. Fahrenheit reports the design of an accurate thermometer, the development of a new scale for temperature, and the measured boiling points of several liquids.
1742 Anders Celsius invents the centigrade temperature scale.
1750 Back to Top
1762 Joseph Black begins to report results from his experiments aimed at understanding heat. He invented calorimetry and distinguished latent heats from sensible heats. Among other things, he was the first to measure the latent heats of fusion and vaporization for water. It was Black who named these "latent" heats.
1765 James Watt has the idea of using a condenser, separate from the cylinder, to improve the efficiency of the Newcomen steam engine. It would be 1776 before Watt could construct a successful working model.
1777 Antoine Lavoisier proves that air is primarily oxygen and nitrogen.
1796 J. T. Lowitz makes pure ethanol.
1798 Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) read before the Royal Society (London) "An Experimental Inquiry Concerning the Source of the Heat which is Excited by Friction." The experiments show that heat is not conserved, contradicting the caloric theory of heat.
1799 By careful experimental analysis, Joseph Louis Proust establishes the law of definite proportions, which will have a deep influence on John Dalton.
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1803 John Dalton publishes a paper, "Absorption of Gases by Water and Other Liquids," which contains his law of partial pressures.
1807 Thomas Young begins using the term energy in its modern sense, though it would require the efforts of both Rankine and Helmholtz to assure its acceptance. Jean Antoine Claude Chaptal publishes Chemistry Applied to the Arts, the first book on industrial chemistry.
1808 John Dalton publishes the first volume of A New System of Chemical Philosophy, which contains his atomic theory of matter. Louis Joseph Gay-Lussac publishes "The Combination of Gases."
1811 Amadeo Avogadro articulates the modern distinction between atoms and molecules; heretofore, no such distinction had been made.
1813 Jakob Berzelius invents modern chemical notation in which an atom is represented by the first one or two letters of its Latin name and the numbers of atoms in a molecule are given by numerical subscripts.
1818 J. Berzelius publishes a definitive table of atomic weights, based on the analysis of 2000 compounds.
1822 Charles, Baron Cagniard de la Tour, discovers the gas-liquid critical state.
1824 Sadi Carnot publishes "Reflexions on the Motive Power of Fire," which introduces the idea of a reversible process and the first statement of what would become known as the Second Law.
1825 Michael Faraday discovers benzene in a gas made from whale oil.
1828 Robert Brown reports his discovery of the motion of microscopic particles suspended in water.
1840 G. H. Hess, after many experiments, announces that the heat from a chemical reaction is independent of the reaction path (Hess's Law).
1842 Julius Robert von Mayer publishes "On the Forces of the Inanimate Nature," which contains in essence a statement of the First Law.
1843 James Prescott Joule measures the mechanical equivalent of heat, which will provide the experimental basis for the First Law.
1847 Hermann Helmholtz publishes "On the Conservation of Energy." (The phrase is originally due to Rankine.) H. V. Regnault publishes results from his systematic measurements of the properties of steam.
1848 Michael Faraday presents The Chemical History of a Candle at the Christmas Lectures of the Royal Society of London. The presentation will be repeated at the Christmas Lectures of 1860. William Thomson establishes an absolute temperature scale that is independent of any particular substance.
1850 Back to Top
1850 Rudolf Clausius makes a formal statement of the Second Law: "Heat cannot of itself pass from a colder body to a hotter one."
1852-62 J. P. Joule and W. Thomson conduct a series of experiments showing that the temperature of a gas can decrease when the gas is allowed to expand without doing work. This Joule-Thomson effect provides direct experimental evidence for the existence of intermolecular forces and serves as the basis for converting any gas to liquid.
1859 W. J. M. Rankine publishes a Manual of the Steam Engine, which introduces engineers to thermodynamics. Jean J. E. Lenoir invents the first workable internal combustion engine.
1866 J. Clerk Maxwell publishes "On the Dynamical Theory of Gases," in which he deduces the form for the probability distribution of molecular velocities and the criterion for thermal equilibrium between two gas samples.
1873 J. D. van der Waals completes his doctoral thesis, On the Continuity of the Gaseous and Liquid States, which contains a new equation of state.
1876 Karl von Linde invents the first practical refrigerator; it uses ammonia as the refrigerant.
1877 L. Cailletet and Raoul Pictet independently succeed in liquefying oxygen. This is the first of the "permanent gases" to be liquified and suggests that attractive intermolecular forces act among molecules of all substances. Nikolaus August Otto receives a patent for a four-stroke, spark-ignition internal combustion engine; the design is based on the earlier work of Lenoir.
1878 J. Williard Gibbs publishes "On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances."
1883 William Thomson publishes "On the Size of Atoms."
1884 Svante Arrhenius defends his PhD dissertation, which in part proposes the theory of ionic dissociation for electrolytes dissolved in water.
1886 Francois Marie Raoult proposes that the partial pressure of solvent vapor in equilibrium with a solution is proportional to the ratio of number of solvent molecules to solute molecules (i.e., Raoult's law).
1892 Queen Victoria names William Thomson Lord Kelvin of Largs. James Dewar invents the Dewar flask, a.k.a., the thermos bottle.
1894 Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt) discovers argon.
1895 Karl von Linde invents a staging process for the Joule-Thomson expansion to reach very low temperatures, thereby allowing liquefaction of large quantities of air, oxygen, and other gases.
1897 J. J. Thomson discovers the electron. Rudolf Diesel perfects his invention of the compression-ignition internal combustion engine.
1898 Using Linde's staging of the Joule-Thomson expansion, James Dewar liquefies hydrogen.
1900 Back to Top
1901 Gilbert N. Lewis introduces the idea of fugacity. H. Kamerlingh Onnes introduces what is essentially the virial equation of state. W. H. Nernst postulates the Third Law.
1902 J. Williard Gibbs publishes the first text on statistical mechanics, Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics.
1904 Lord Rayleigh awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of argon. Sir William Ramsay awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering the other inert gases (except argon and helium) and placing them in the periodic table.
1905 Albert Einstein publishes a molecular explanation for Brownian motion.
1906 Using the van der Waals equation, Onnes and Keesom predict the existence of gas-gas equilibrium.
1908 H. Kamerlingh Onnes liquefies helium.
1910 J. D. van der Waals awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for developing a PvT equation of state, corresponding states, and related work.
1912 W. H. Keesom derives the expression for the second virial coefficient of a gas of hard spheres.
1913 H. Kamerlingh Onnes awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for experimental work on matter at low temperatures.
1915 H. L. Callendar publishes extensive tables of the properties of steam. The values are a combination of experimental data, interpolations of the data, and theoretical computations.
1923 Gilbert N. Lewis and Merle Randall publish Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances (McGraw-Hill).
1924 J. E. Lennard-Jones introduces a simple model for the potential energy resulting from the interaction of two spherical molecules. An enlarged form of the Callendar steam tables is published.
1927 J. A. Beattie and P. C. Bridgman introduce a new PvT equation of state.
1929 Joel Hildebrand introduces the idea of a regular solution.
1936 Peter Debye awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for studies of dipole moments and x-ray diffraction.
1939 Sydney Chapman and T. G. Cowling publish The Mathematical Theory of Non-Uniform Gases (Cambridge University Press).
1940 I. R. Krichevskii experimentally observes gas-gas equilibrium. J. E. Mayer and M. G. Mayer publish Statistical Mechanics (Wiley).
1942 A. Eisenstein and N. S. Gingrich report the first measurements of the radial distribution function in a liquid. The experiments were done on argon using x-ray diffraction.
1946 Percy Bridgman awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for experimental studies of matter at high pressures.
1949 William Giauque awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for experimental studies of matter at extremely low temperatures. Otto Redlich and J. N. S. Kwong introduce a new equation of state.
1950 Back to Top
1951 John Kirkwood and Frank Buff publish a fluctuation theory for solutions.
1952 H. H. Rachford and J. D. Rice publish "Procedure for Use of Electronic Digital Computers in Calculating Flash Vaporization Hydrocarbon Equilibrium."
1953 N. A. Metropolis, A. W. Rosenbluth, M. N. Rosenbluth, A. H. Teller, and E. Teller publish "Equation of State Calculations by Fast Computing Machines," in which the Mone Carlo method is first applied to fluid-state problems.
1954 Linus Pauling awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for contributions to understanding chemical bonds. J. O. Hirschfelder, C. F. Curtis, and R. B. Bird publish Molecular Theory of Gases and Liquids (Wiley). The English translation (by D. H. Everett) of Chemical Thermodynamics, by I. Prigogine and R. Defay, published by Wiley.
1955 Enrico Fermi, J. Pasta, and Stan Ulam perform the first molecular dynamics simulation. Ken Pitzer introduces the acentric factor.
1956 T. L. Hill publishes Statistical Mechanics (McGraw-Hill).
1959 John Rowlinson publishes Liquids and Liquid Mixtures (Butterworths).
1963 E. Thiele and M. Wertheim independently solve the Ornstein-Zernicke equation in the Percus-Yevick approximation to obtain the pair distribution function for a fluid of hard spheres.
1964 A. Rahman performs the first molecular dynamics simulation on the Lennard-Jones fluid.
1975 B. I. Lee and M. G. Kesler publish "A Generalized Thermodynamic Correlation Based on Three-Parameter Corresponding States."
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