William Francis Giauque (May 12, 1895 – March 28, 1982) was a Canadian chemist and Nobel laureate recognised in 1949 for his studies in the properties of matter at temperatures close to absolute zero.
As his parents were U.S. citizens, they returned to the U.S. where he attended public schools primarily in Michigan. Following the death of his father in 1908, the family returned to Niagara Falls, where he studied at the Niagara Falls Collegiate Institute. After graduation, he looked for work in various power plants at Niagara Falls both for financial reasons and to pursue a career in electrical engineering but was unsuccessful.
However, he was successful in an application with the Hooker Electro-Chemical Company in Niagara Falls, New York, which led him to accept employment in their laboratory. As a consequence of his enjoyment of the work, he decided to become a chemical engineer.
After two years employment he entered the College of Chemistry of the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a bachelor of science degree with honors in 1920, was a University Fellow for 1920-1921 and James M. Goewey Fellow 1921-1922. He received his Ph.D. degree in chemistry with a minor in physics in 1922.
The principal objective of his researches was to demonstrate through range of appropriate tests that the third law of thermodynamics is a basic natural law. In 1926, he proposed a method for observing temperatures considerably below one kelvin (−457.87 degrees Fahrenheit or −272.15 degrees Celsius). His work with D.P. MacDougall between 1933 and 1935 successfully employed them.
He developed a magnetic refrigeration device of his own design in order to achieve this outcome, getting closer to absolute zero than many scientists had thought possible. This trailblazing work, apart from proving one of the fundamental laws of nature led to stronger steel, better gasoline and more efficient processes in a range of industries.
His researches and that of his students included a large number of entropy determinations from low temperature measurements, particularly on condensed gases. The entropies and other thermodynamic properties of many gases were also determined from quantum statistics and molecular energy levels available from band spectra as well as other sources.
His correlated investigations of the entropy of oxygen with Dr. Herrick. L. Johnston, led to the discovery of oxygen isotopes 17 and 18 in the Earth's atmosphere and showed that physicists and chemists had been using different scales of atomic weight for years without recognising it.