Atwater, Wilbur Olin

Atwater, Wilbur Olin

▪ American chemist
born May 3, 1844, Johnsburg, N.Y., U.S.
died Sept. 22, 1907, Middletown, Conn.

      American scientist who developed agricultural chemistry.

      Upon completing his undergraduate work at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., Atwater continued his studies at Yale University, where his Ph.D. thesis discussed for the first time how chemical techniques could be applied to food. After further study in Germany, he began to teach at Wesleyan, where he was professor of chemistry for the rest of his life. In 1875 he was instrumental in persuading the Connecticut legislature to set up the first state agricultural research station in the United States, at Middletown. In 1887, again at his prodding, Congress passed the Hatch Act, providing funds for agricultural experiment stations in all the states. He was the first director of the Office of Experiment Stations (1888).

      He then turned his attention to calorimetry and, with E.B. Rosa, professor of physics at Wesleyan, constructed the Atwater-Rosa calorimeter (1892–97), which proved the law of conservation of energy in human beings and made it possible to calculate the caloric values of different foods. The caloric tables that Atwater devised in 1896 continued to be used throughout the world.

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