GILBERT N LEWIS – The Original “BOND”ing Scientist

We represent symbols in this manner to show the number of valence electrons in the respective element. These symbolic representations are called Lewis Dot Structures and found by Gilbert N Lewis. He was a famous American physical chemist and also known for the discovery of covalent bond, his concept of electron pairs, chemical bonding and his contributions to valence bond theory. He is also famous for concept of acids and bases, thermodynamics, photo chemistry and isotope separation.

Gilbert Newton Lewis was born on 23rd October 1875 in Weymouth, Massachusetts. His parents were Frank Wesley Lewis and Mary Burr White Lewis. His father was a lawyer and was very independent. Lewis got his primary education from his parents and he read at the age of three. He was intellectually talented.

His family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1884 and Lewis started his first formal education at the age of thirteen in 1889 at the preparatory school of the University of Nebraska. He got transferred to Harvard University in 1893 from where he received bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1896. He worked as a teacher at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. Later he returned to Harvard University and completed master’s degree in 1898 followed by a doctorate the next year for a thesis on the electrochemistry of zinc and cadmium amalgams under the guidance of Theodore Richards.

He worked as instructor in Harvard University and as superintendant of weights and measures for some years. He joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of technology, Cambridge and he was appointed as the permanent dean in 1912. He remained there until his last breath. He made the chemistry department as the best in the United States during his 34 year tenure.

Lewis was very famous for his witty and insightful comments during student and staff research seminars. He was termed to be an excellent conversationalist who has got unlimited supply of jokes. He was addicted to the use of puns and limericks. Pun is a form of word that suggests two or more meanings and limericks is humorous poetry. He used to dictate the sentences which he carefully composed and crafted and thus he used to write his books and papers. Go to Acid base and salt Video.

He got married to Mary Hinckley Sheldon in 1912 and the couple had two sons and a daughter. His two sons became chemistry professors.

His area of research was majorly in chemistry and he discovered the role of electron in chemical bonding. He validated them a lot and finally published his own model in 1916. He equated the classic chemical bond by sharing a pair of electrons between the bonded atoms. He was the first to introduce to electron dot diagrams to symbolize the electronic structures of atoms and molecules. They are now known as Lewis Structures.

He published more than 26 papers between 1933 and 1934 regarding the separation and study of properties of deuterium and its compounds. Many people suggested that he should have awarded the Nobel Prize for this study. He also made his contribution on the electronic theory of acids and bases. They are now called as Lewis acid –base definitions universally. They define an acid as an electron pair acceptor and base as an electron pair donor. He also made some contributions in theoretical physics.


He postulated that light can exert pressure on matter in space and he introduced the term photon to describe electromagnetic radiation. He also published the paper dealing with Einstein’s theory of relativity. He also made research in vector analysis, quantum field theory and statistical mechanics.

Many people say that his death was sort of a suicide. There was a scientist named Irving Langmuir who extended the Lewis theory on surface chemistry and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932. But Lewis never received the Nobel Prize in spite of being nominated 35 times. On 23rd march 1946, he had lunch with Langmuir and he returned in dull mood, played morose game of bridge with his colleagues and went back to work in his lab. He was found dead an hour later.

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