Josiah Willard Gibbs was an American scientist who made important theoretical contributions to physics, chemistry, and mathematics. His work on the applications of thermodynamics was instrumental in transforming physical chemistry into a rigorous deductive science. Together with James Clerk Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann, he created statistical mechanics, explaining the laws of thermodynamics as consequences of the statistical properties of large ensembles of particles. Gibbs also worked on the application of Maxwell's equations to problems in physical optics. As a mathematician, he invented modern vector calculus.
In 1863, Yale awarded Gibbs the first American doctorate in engineering. After a three-year sojourn in Europe, Gibbs spent the rest of his career at Yale, where he was professor of mathematical physics from 1871 until his death. Working in relative isolation, he became the earliest theoretical scientist in the United States to earn an international reputation and was praised by Albert Einstein as "the greatest mind in American history". In 1901 Gibbs received what was then considered the highest honor awarded by the international scientific community, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London, "for his contributions to mathematical physics".