Johannes Diderik van der Walls was born in Leyden, the Netherlands, on November 23, 1837. He was the eldest son of 8 brothers. Son of Jacobus van der Waals and Elisabeth van den Burg.
He was an important physicist and studied intermolecular interactions and formulated equations describing the liquid and gaseous states, fundamental work for measuring absolute zero.
After finishing primary school, he studied to be a school teacher, where he worked from 1856 to 1861. He studied physics, mathematics and astronomy at Leyden University. I had learning difficulties in the field of classical languages. He married Anna Magdalena Smit and had three daughters and one son.
In 1864, he taught at a secondary school in Deventer and in 1866 moved to The Hague, where he taught physics and mathematics. He was also the principal of this school. He continued to study in his free time at Leyden University, even without knowledge of Greek and Latin.
After revision of some laws, science students did not depend on classical language studies. So van der Waals can take new university exams. He became a doctor in 1873, defending the thesis “About the continuity of the gaseous and liquid states”.
In 1876, he was appointed principal professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam. Van der Waal has published many articles on the subject of his thesis. He was interested in topics such as heat, the perfect gas equation of state and intermolecular forces.
He was a professor of physics at the Illustre University of Amsterdam. He was the only teacher of the discipline. Together with Van't Hoff and other scientists, he helped raise the reputation of this university. In 1890, the first treatise on "Theory of Binary Solutions" appeared in the Archives Nerlandaises. This theory was born from the relationship van der Waals was able to establish between his equation of state and the formulation of the Second Principle of Thermodynamics as proposed by W. Gibbs. .
He was Honorary Doctor at Cambridge University. Honorary Member of the Russian Imperial Society of Naturalists (Moscow), the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society.
He was a correspondent member of the Institut de France and the Royal Academy of Sciences (Berlin) and a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Belgium, the Chemical Society of London, the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A and the Accademia dei Lincei of Rome. He was one of only twelve foreign members of the Paris Academy of Sciences. From 1875 to 1895 Van der Waals was a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Science "Koninklijke Academie van Wetenschappen".
In 1908, at the age of 71, he retired. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1910. He enjoyed walking in the field and literature. Van der Waals died on March 8, 1923 at the age of 85.