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Peter Debye, a Dutch-American physicist and physical chemist, is a 1936 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awardee. He investigated dipole moments, light scattering, and x-rays.
See the fact file below for more information on the Peter Debye or alternatively, you can download our 24-page Peter Debye worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- On March 24, 1884, Petrus (Peter) Josephus Wilhelmus Debye was born in Maastricht, Netherlands.
- He studied in the elementary and secondary schools in his hometown.
He was known to be strict when it comes to scientific principles, yet friendly and approachable. He also made time for his students.
- He was an enthusiastic gardener and trout fisherman. He also collected cacti and was known to enjoy a nice cigar.
- During his stay at Aachen in Berlin, he met Mathilde Alberer, the daughter of his landlord. They married in 1913 and had a son and a daughter, Peter and Mathilde Maria. Peter also became a physicist and collaborated with his dad in some of his works.
- In 1905, he received his degree in electrical engineering at the Aachen Institute of Technology.
- He was appointed as Assistant in Technical Mechanics at the same school, where he stayed for two years.
- Debye obtained a matching position in Theoretical Physics at the Munich University in 1906. There he gained his Ph.D. in Physics in 1908 and later, in 1910, qualified as a university lecturer.
- He worked as a Professor of Theoretical Physics at Zurich University for two years, starting in 1911.
- He was appointed in the same position at Utrecht University in 1912.
- In 1914, he took charge of the Theoretical department of the Physical Institute at the University of Göttingen. He also became a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Art and Sciences in May of the same year. He later became the director of the whole institute and held lectures about experimental physics until 1920.
- He was also Editor of Physikalische Zeitschrift (Physical Journal) from 1915 until 1940.
- In 1920, he returned to Zurich as Professor of Physics and Principal of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and held the same position at Leipzig in 1927.
- In Berlin-Dahlem, he became the Director of the Max Planck Institute (former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics). He was also a Professor of Physics at the University of Berlin.
- In 1940, he came to New York to work as a Professor of Chemistry and Principal of the Chemistry Department of Cornell University in Ithaca and was able to get American citizenship in 1946.
- In 1952, Debye resigned from his post as the Head of the Chemistry Department at Cornell University and later, his positions as Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the same university.
- In 1907 after receiving his degree in engineering, he published a paper that presents an elegant mathematical solution to a problem involving eddy currents.
- For his Ph.D., he did a dissertation about radiation pressure.
- Using a simpler method, he derived the Planck radiation formula in 1910. Max Planck acknowledged Debye’s formula to be more straightforward and simple compared to his own.
- In 1912, he studied the structure of covalent bonds and explained it with the concept of dipole moment. He was then able to create equations showing the relationship of dipole moments to dielectric constant and temperature. This is considered to be the first of his many contributions to science.
- In the same year, he expounded upon Einstein’s theory of specific heat. He included contributions from low-frequency phonons extending the theory to lower temperatures.
- He also worked on Niels Bohr’s theory of atomic structure and introduced elliptical orbits to extend the theory.
- In 1913, he published Interferenz von Röntgenstrahlen und Wärmebewegung. He explained that x-ray scattering decreases due to thermal motion. His findings led to the Debye factor. Debye worked with Paul Scherrer in 1941-1915 to investigate and calculate the effects of temperature on x-ray diffraction patterns of crystalline solids. They developed the Debye-Scherrer method that deciphers symmetrical crystal structures. The duo was also able to create the atomic form factor, describing the distribution of electrons in the atom.
- In 1923, he worked with his assistant Erich Hückel to further improve Svante Arrhenius’ theory of electrical conductivity in electrolyte solutions. They were able to develop the Debye-Hückel equation and limiting law.
- He was also able to develop a theory that explains the Compton effect in 1923, discovering that the wavelength of x-rays increases when they collide with electrons.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
- In 1930, Debye was awarded the Rumford Medal for his work in specific heats and x-ray spectroscopy, given by Britain’s Royal Society.
The Faraday Lectureship Prize was given to Debye in 1933 by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
- He also received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936 for his work on x-ray diffraction and dipole moments.
- In 1963, the Priestley Medal was awarded to Debye. The medal is the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society.
- He also received a Lorentz Medal (1935), a William Gibbs Award in 1949, a Max Planck Medal in 1950, and a National Medal of Science in 1965.
- He was also honored in Alpha Chi Sigma’s Hall of Fame in 1982.
DEATH AND LEGACY
- Though he retired at age 68, he continued researching despite his retirement. Much of his work at Cornell involved the use of light-scattering techniques to know the molecular weight and size of polymer molecules.
- In April 1966, he had a heart attack, and on November 2, 1966, he had another heart attack, which ultimately lead to his death.
- His grave is in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Ithaca, New York.
- Because of his work in physics and chemistry, there are a few terms and things that were named after him, such as the debye, the unit of an electric dipole moment.
- There is also an institute at the University of Utrecht that is named after him: the Debye Institute for Nanomaterials Science.
- The Hustinx Foundation in Maastricht, Netherlands sponsors and awards the Peter Debye Prize in memory of Debye.
- In the city of Maastricht, a street and a square are named after Debye.
Peter Debye Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Peter Debye across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Peter Debye worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Peter Debye, a Dutch-American physicist and physical chemist, who is a 1936 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awardee. He investigated dipole moments, light scattering, and x-rays.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Peter Debye Facts
- Chemistry Nobel 1936
- How was Peter?
- University Gigs
- Working Time
- Debye Define
- In the Moment
- X-ray Visuals
- Debye the Spy?
- Deep in Thought
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