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Irving Langmuir
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Scientist
    (January 31, 1881-August 16, 1957)
    Born in Brooklyn, New York
    Worked at General Electric (1909-50)
    Made contributions to surface chemistry, thermionic emission, plasma physics, and atomic structure
    Won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1932)
    He started as an instructor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, but complained that his teaching duties took too much time from research.
    After his proteges Vincent Schaefer and Bernard Vonnegut discovered cloud seeding, he started boasting ‘We should be able to abolish the evil effects of hurricanes.’ (Subsequent experiments to see if cloud seeding could change the strength or path of hurricanes were inconclusive.)
    He was so absentminded that he once left a tip under his plate after his wife served him breakfast at home.
    He found that the filaments in incandescent light bulbs would last longer if the bulb was filled with an inert gas like argon.
    He invented a hydrogen welding torch.
    He was a friend of conductor Leopold Stokowski and worked with him to improve the quality of radio broadcasts of orchestral music.
    The American Chemical Society named its journal of surface chemistry after him.
    He was an enthusiastic skier and mountaineer and has a mountain in Alaska named after him.
    He came up with the idea for ice-nine (an alternative form of water that is solid at room temperature and converts any water it contacts to ice-nine) and pitched it as the basis of a science fiction story to H.G. Wells. Wells showed no interest, but Langmuir later presented the concept to Kurt Vonnegut, who used ice-nine in the novel ‘Cat’s Cradle.’
    He said his accomplishments were a result of working ‘for the fun of it.’

Credit: C. Fishel


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