and originality in interpretation were most admired. I was never aware of jealousy or friction between faculty members and in four years I grew to know most of them very well."

In view of his later reputation as a theorist, it is interesting that Mayer's first research was experimental; actually a purely theoretical thesis would have been most unusual in a chemistry department at that time. The 1927 publication from his thesis with G. N. Lewis was titled, "A Disproof of the Radiation Theory of Chemical Activation," which was followed by a longer paper by Mayer alone in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. This work was relevant to a hypothesis, popular at the time, that excitation of molecules by infrared radiation was an important cause of chemical reaction. Mayer's experiment exposed a beam of pinene molecules in vacuum to an intense bath of infrared, but found no evidence of the expected reaction, racemization of the pinene. Settling this question was important for the development of a correct theory of chemical reactions.

However, it was at Berkeley that Mayer's first work on chemical theory was done; this was a postdoctoral effort in collaboration with G. N. Lewis on the relation between quantum statistical mechanics and thermodynamics. In his own words: "I had no knowledge of statistical mechanics and Lewis had never worked in the field either. He had become interested in the discovery that had just been made of the difference between quantum mechanical statistical mechanics and the classical. . . . During the day I tried to learn statistical mechanics using Tolman's two books . . . Gilbert and I spent the evenings together, usually at about eight o'clock, sometimes until about midnight." One is struck by the image of two of the outstanding physical chemists of this century, Lewis at the peak of an illustrious career, Mayer at the beginning of his, struggling to assimilate and apply to chem-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement