Physics in Perspective

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 295–319 | Cite as

Much Polyphony but Little Harmony: Otto Sackur’s Groping for a Quantum Theory of Gases

  • Massimiliano Badino
  • Bretislav Friedrich


The endeavor of Otto Sackur (1880–1914) was driven, on the one hand, by his interest in Nernst’s heat theorem, statistical mechanics, and the problem of chemical equilibrium and, on the other hand, by his goal to shed light on classical mechanics from the quantum vantage point. Inspired by the interplay between classical physics and quantum theory, Sackur chanced to expound his personal take on the role of the quantum in the changing landscape of physics in the turbulent 1910s. We tell the story of this enthusiastic practitioner of the old quantum theory and early contributor to quantum statistical mechanics, whose scientific ontogenesis provides a telling clue about the phylogeny of his contemporaries.


Otto Sackur Richard Abegg Ludwig Boltzmann Max Born Peter Debye Arnold Eucken Josiah Willard Gibbs Fritz Haber Jacobus Henricus van’t Hoff Walther Nernst Max Planck Otto Stern Hugo Tetrode Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry first Solvay Conference affinity heat theorem third law of thermodynamics quantization phase space entropy quantum theory of gases quantum statistical mechanics heat capacity Sackur-Tetrode equation law of mass action chemical constant 



We are grateful to Roger H. Stuewer for greatly improving our manuscript by correcting many errors and inaccuracies it was fraught with at the time of submission.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre d’Història de la Ciència, Facultat de CiènciesUniversitat Autonoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Barcelona)Spain
  2. 2.Abteilung MolekülphysikFritz Haber InstituteBerlinGermany

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