Dr. Petrus J.W. Debye, Director of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, was born in Maastricht, Holland, on March 24, 1884.
After having finished high school work at the Hoogere Burger School of his native town, he entered the Technische Hochscule of Aachen, where he studied electrical engineering and obtained the degree of Diplom-Ingenieur in 1905.
During his last year in Aachen and from 1906 to 1911, he was an assistant of Professor Sommerfeld, the well-known theoretical physicist, at the University of Munich. In 1908, he obtained the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Munich, and in 1911 he was called to the University of Zurich as a Professor in Theoretical Physics. In 1913, he was called to the University of Utrecht, and in 1914, to the University of Goettingen.
Dr. Debye was appointed in 1920, Professor of Physics and Director of the Physics Laboratory at the Eidgenoessische Technische Hochscule in Zurich, and in 1927 he was called to the equivalent position at the university of Leipzig. In 1935, he was asked by the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft to build a research Institute for Physics, with funds provided by the Rockefeller Institute. This is now known as the Max Planck Institute. At the same time, he was appointed as a Professor at the University of Berlin.
Professor Debye has published many papers, dealing mostly with questions of molecular structure, his object being always to bridge the gap between chemistry and physics. Since 1916, he has been the editor of the Physikalische Zeitschrift. He received the Rumford, the Faraday, the Lorentz and the Franklin medals, and was given honorary degrees by the Universities of Oxford, Liege, Bruxelles, Sofia and Harvard. In 1936, he was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry. He has visited the United States several times, lecturing at various universities. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of learned societies and academies in many countries.
Mendel Medal Presentation Program, May 3, 1940. Villanova College, Villanova, Pennsylvania.