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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 60
me about numerous observations which did not quite fit into the picture, and of tentative explanations for the discrepancies. . . . Suspicion centered on the long-range forces between the ions." (1969,1)
This passing reference to "the journals" shows that Onsager was already exercising an independence of mind that later blossomed into a deep scientific originality. When, in 1923, Debye and Hückel published their new theory of electrolyte solutions,4 Onsager was quick to master their ideas and to detect a flaw in their account of electrolytic conduction and diffusion. It was his own ideas about these processes that ultimately led him to the reciprocal relations that now bear his name; but a parallel influence on his thinking was the experimental work of C. N. Riiber5 on the kinetics of tautomerism, which he had already begun to consider in 1924 in the light of the principle of microscopic reversibility. Onsager saw that this principle would supply a sufficient condition for detailed balancing to prevail—for there to be no chemical "circulation" when three or more tautomers were present under equilibrium conditions. The same principle might, he suspected, be brought to bear on the relative rates of other naturally occurring processes.
In his five years at Trondheim, Onsager not only acquired the mathematical skill that he later put to such impressive use and an interest in electrolytes to which his attention was to return continually throughout his life, he also developed a deep appreciation of the relation of theory to experiment and of the duty of a theorist to propose experimental tests of his ideas. It is at least likely that his later interests in ther
P. W. Debye and E. Hückel, "Zur Theorie der Elektrolyte. I. Gefrierpunktserniedrigung und verwandte Erscheinungen," Phys. Z. 24(1923): 185-206; "Zur Theorie der Elektrolyte. II. Das Grenzgesetz für die elektrische Leitfähigkeit," pp. 305-25.
C. N. Riiber, "Über Mutarotation I. Mitteilung", Chem. Ber. 55B(1922): 3132-43; and "Über Mutarotation II. Metteilung," Chem. Ber. 56B(1923): 2185-94.