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Percy Williams Bridgman

Percy Williams BridgmanBorn: 21-Apr-1882
Birthplace: Cambridge, MA
Died: 20-Aug-1961
Location of death: Randolph, NH
Cause of death: Suicide

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: High-pressure physics

American physicist Percy Williams Bridgman won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1946, for his development of new techniques to pioneer high-pressure physics, and his studies of the effects of pressure on solid, liquid, and gaseous matter. He introduced the self-tightening joint in 1909, and using this and other equipment of his own design during his career he increased the maximum pressure scientists could exert from about 3,000 to 420,000 kilograms per square centimeter. In 1927 he presented a theory of operationalism, suggesting that concepts are simply sets of operations. In 1955, he served as consultant to General Electric as scientists at the company's labs used high-pressure technique to convert graphite into a synthetic diamond.

He was raised in the Congregational Church, but faith in God clashed with his well-known analytical nature and he told his family as a young man that he could not in good conscience become a church member. Of libertarian ideology, he began refusing to work with scientists from nations he deemed totalitarian several years before the United States was drawn into World War II. When his daughter became engaged in 1948 he became a temporary Justice of the Peace, for just long enough to conduct her non-religious marriage ceremony himself.

His students included nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer. His father-in-law, Edmund Asa Ware (1837-85), was the founder of Atlanta University. Bridgman developed bone cancer in his 70s, and ended his life with a .22-caliber sawed-off rifle at his home in Randolph, New Hampshire on 20 August 1961. In 1977, the International Association for the Advancement of High-Pressure Science and Technology established the Percy Williams Bridgman Award in his honor and memory.

Father: Raymond Landon Bridgman (newspaper reporter)
Mother: Mary Ann Williams Bridgman ("Maria")
Wife: Olive Ware (m. 1912, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Jane (b. 1914)
Son: Robert Ware (b. 1915)

    High School: Newton North High School, Newton, MA (1900)
    University: BA Mathematics, Harvard University (1904)
    University: MA Physics, Harvard University (1905)
    University: PhD Physics, Harvard University (1908)
    Scholar: Physics, Harvard University (1908-10)
    Teacher: Physics, Harvard University (1910-19)
    Professor: Physics, Harvard University (1919-26)
    Professor: Hollis Professor of Mathematics & Natural Philosophy, Harvard University (1926-50)
    Professor: Higgins Professor of Physics, Harvard University (1950-54)

    Rumford Prize 1917
    Elliott Cresson Medal 1932
    Comstock Prize 1933
    H. W. Bakhuis Roozeboom Medal 1933
    Research Corporation Award 1937
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1946
    Bingham Medal for Rheology 1951
    General Electric Consultant, 1955
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Philosophical Society
    American Physical Society President, 1942
    Indian Academy of Sciences Foreign Fellow
    Institute of Physics
    National Academy of Sciences 1918
    Royal Society Foreign Member
    Washington Academy of Sciences
    English Ancestry
    Shot: Self-Inflicted 20-Aug-1961 (fatal)
    Lunar Crater Bridgman (43.5 N 137.1 E, 80 km. diameter)

Author of books:
Dimensional Analysis (1922)
The Logic of Modern Physics (1927, physics)
The Physics of High Pressure (1931, physics)
The Thermodynamics of Electrical Phenomena in Metals (1934, physics)
The Nature of Physical Theory (1936, physics)
The Intelligent Individual and Society (1938, physics)
The Nature of Thermodynamics (1941, physics)
Reflections of a Physicist (1950, memoir)
Collected Experimental Papers (1964, physics, 7 volumes)


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