Giauque, William Francis (1895-1982), an American chemist, won the 1949 Nobel Prize in chemistry for pioneer work in cryogenics, the field of very low temperatures. He was the first to obtain a temperature close to minus 273.15°C (minus 459.67°F), absolute zero.
From information gained at these low temperatures, he accurately predicted the existence of two isotopes of oxygen. This led to the recalibration of atomic weight scales. Giauque also proved that the third law of thermodynamics is a basic natural law. His findings have led to improvements in the production of substances such as gasoline, glass, rubber, and steel.
Giauque was born of American parents in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. His family lived in Michigan until he was 13 and then moved back to Ontario, after his father's death. He attended the Niagara Falls Collegiate and Vocational Institute and then worked in the laboratory of the Hooker Electro-Chemical Company in Niagara Falls, New York.
Giauque studied at the University of California at Berkeley, earning his doctorate in 1922. He began teaching at Berkeley that same year and spent his entire academic career there, except for several years during World War II (1939-1945) when he worked for the United States government, designing mobile liquid-oxygen units for the military.
In 1932, Giauque married Muriel Frances Ashley, a physicist. The couple had two sons.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Giauque won many other honors and awards. He was awarded the Chandler Medal from Columbia University (1936), the Elliott Cresson Medal from the Franklin Institute (1937), and the G. N. Lewis Medal from the American Chemical Society (1956). He received honorary doctorates from Columbia University and the University of California.
Giauque was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Chemical Society, and the American Philosophical Society. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.