(born , Feb. 11, 1839, New Haven, Conn., U.S.—died April 28, 1903, New Haven) U.S. theoretical physicist and chemist. He became the first person to earn an engineering doctorate from Yale University, where he taught from 1871 until his death. He began his career in engineering but turned to theory, analyzing the equilibrium of James Watt's steam-engine governor. His major works were on fluid thermodynamics and the equilibrium of heterogeneous substances, and he developed statistical mechanics. Gibbs was the first to expound with mathematical rigour the “relation between chemical, electrical, and thermal energy and capacity for work.” Though little of his work was appreciated during his lifetime, his application of thermodynamic theory to chemical reactions converted much of physical chemistry from an empirical to a deductive science, and he is regarded as one of the greatest U.S. scientists of the 19th century.
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He was born in Salem, Massachusetts and graduated from Yale in 1809. He was a tutor at the college from 1811 to 1815, when he removed to Andover, studying Hebrew and biblical literature. He returned to New Haven in 1824 as professor of theology and sacred literature, a post he retained until his death.
Gibbs was one of the key witnesses in the Amistad trial in 1839-1840. He had been able to locate a translator for the defendants' Mende language by learning to count to ten in that language, and then counting out loud in the harbor of New York City.