Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839 - 1903)
Born and died in New Haven, Connecticut
J. Willard Gibbs is considered one of the great American mathematicians and physicists of the 19th century. Gibbs was largely unknown until the end of his life, yet his legacy stretches over many fields, in thermodynamics he is responsible for the Gibbs formulation, in physical chemistry he is known as the creator of the phase rule. Gibbs is also generally known as one of the founding fathers of vector analysis.
A brother to two sisters, Gibbs was noted to be introverted and academic while still in grade school. His father, also named J. Willard Gibbs, was a professor of sacred literature at Yale University, which most likely affected his desire to attend there.
Gibbs entered Yale in 1854 with awards in Latin and Mathematics, and was known mostly as a humanities student while an undergraduate. Not until he had graduated had he turned to the applied sciences. From these studies Gibbs received the first engineering degree in United States history in 1863. Gibbs continued as a tutor for most of his post-graduate work, and with his fathers death he had inherited his parents money along with his sisters in 1861.
During the period from 1866 to 1869, Gibbs had traveled to Europe to study, in France from 1866 to 1867, and in Germany for the remainder until 1869. From these travels, it is gathered that Gibbs was quite influenced by Hermann von Helmholtz and Gustoff Kirchoff both famous physicists in their own right.
In 1871 Gibbs was appointed as a professor of mathematics at Yale. As for his publications, Gibbs is considered an oddity because his first scientific paper was written at 34 years of age, and was written after he was raised to a professor position. Gibbs' papers can be separated by era.
1873-1878 - Three papers on thermodynamics, each of which were considered revolutionary at the time.
1880-1884 - Wrote extensive notes on what is now be known as vector analysis. These would later be properly published by one of his students in 1901.
1882-1889 - Wrote five papers on the electromangetic theory of light. His work in statistical mechanics developed some of the mathematics, which would be used in quantum theory
Gibbs lived and died in the same house he was brought up in, excluding his years travelling in Europe. Towards the end of his life he was living with his sister. Most of his work was not appreciated in the United States due to the pressure on homeland scientists to put out practical science, rather than the theoretical. Because he chose to publish in an obscure journal, most of Gibbs' work was not even known until it was translated into German in 1888 and French in 1899.