Debye, Peter Joseph William (1884-1966) was a Dutch-born American physical chemist who was awarded the 1936 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on dipole moments and molecular structure. Debye made many important contributions to the field of science.

Debye was born on March 24, 1884, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and received his early education there. In 1901, he enrolled in the Aachen Institute of Technology in Aachen, Germany. While he was still in school, he became an assistant in technical mechanics at the institute. In 1905, he received a degree in electrical engineering, which qualified him as an electrical engineer, and in 1906, he became an assistant in theoretical physics at the University of Munich. He obtained his Ph.D. in physics at Munich in 1908. From 1910 to 1911, he was a lecturer at the university.

Over the next several years. Debye accepted prestigious positions at several institutions. In 1911, he took over the post of professor of theoretical physics held by Albert Einstein at the University of Zurich. In 1912, he returned to the Netherlands to become professor of theoretical physics at the University of Utrecht. In 1914, he went to the University of Göttingen in Germany, where he served as professor of theoretical experimental physics.

In 1916, while at Göttingen, Debye continued the work of German physicist Max Theodor Felix von Laue and father and son British physicists William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg. The three physicists studied the structure of crystals by means of X rays. Debye added to their body of work by showing that the thermal motion of atoms in a solid affects the X-ray interfaces. He also explained, with the use of the specific heat theories, the temperature dependence of X-ray intensities. This work led the way for his observation, which he made with fellow physicist Paul Scherrer, that randomly oriented particles can produce characteristic X-ray diffraction patterns. Therefore, the need for comparatively large single crystals was eliminated, and powder X-ray diffraction analysis became a new and versatile analytical technique, which is now known as the Debye-Scherrer method.