Saturday, 24 March 2012 03:49

Ludwig Boltzmann: Men of Ideas

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Ludwig Boltzmann

Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann (1844-1908) was an Austrian mathematician and physicist. His most important contribution to physics is statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics.

He was a supporter of Dalton’s atomic theory and he did so at a time it was controversial (that is, before Ernst Rutherford demonstrated its reality).

Boltzmann’s most important contribution is his kinetic theory (of gases) for the distribution for molecular speeds in gases (now called Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution).The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution and Boltzmann statistics are the foundations of classical statistical mechanics.

Boltzmann tried to use his statistics to show that atoms indeed exist (now called Boltzmann’s constant) but his colleagues would not believe him. A year after his death Perrin’s studies confirmed Boltzmann and Avogadro’s number (S=k log W where k=1.3806505(24) x10-23 JK-1 is Boltzmann’s constant).

Boltzmann lea mathematical legacy called Boltzmann’s equation that describes the dynamics of ideal gases. That equation is very difficult to integrate and many have tried to do so without success. In 1970 Cohen and Dorfman demonstrated that it is mathematically impossible to prove systematic extension of the Boltzmann’s equation to high densities.

Boltzmann made contributions to the study of energy flows under transformation (energetics). He tried to link available energy as fundamental in understanding biological organisms struggle for existence.

Boltzmann admired Charles Darwin and wished to convert his hypothesis of natural selection to cultural selection. As he saw it, cultural evolution was a physical process taking place in the brain. Ethics and ideas, Boltzmann believed, evolved in the human brain from a Darwinian selection for survival perspective.

Apparently, Boltzmann suffered from depression for most of his life and in 1908 hung himself. He left a legacy in the study of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics.  He is generally known by his equation, an equation that many have tried to solve to no avail.


Stephen Brush. Boltzmann, in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie. (1970)

Stephen Brush. Boltzmann Lectures on Gas Theory (Ed). (1964)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

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