Physics of Scale Activities

Benjamin Widom


American physical chemist. He finished his Ph.D. work at Cornell University in 1952 (his degree was awarded in 1953), and then went to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to work as a postdoc with Oscar K. Rice, where he studied phase transitions theory based on thermodynamic approaches. Widom returned to Cornell to join the chemistry faculty in 1954. He worked mainly on the properties of "lattice" liquid mixtures. He analyzed the free energy per unit volume near the critical point which he transcribed to the Ising model of a ferromagnet. He found that the experimental data on the phase transition from liquid to gas indicates that the singular part of the free energy per particle has a certain homogeneity property. The phenomenological property, now called "scaling," constrained the dependence of the free energy on the variables of the system near the critical point. Widom realized that the homogeneity property brought together the various thermodynamic aspects of critical phenomena. He found the functional form of the singular part of the free energy per spin. His work stimulated other physicists to seek an explanation of the homogeneity of the function. He devised non-classical equations of state, incorporating critical point exponents.

Ben Widom is the Goldwin Smith Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology of Cornell University.

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