Langmuir’s World

Institute History

  • 1999 Sundance Film Festival


The pleasure in watching Roger Summerhayes’s account of his grandfather, Irving Langmuir, the first “industrial” scientist to win the Nobel Prize, is the gradual revelation of just how extra-ordinarily interesting this man was. Certainly he was brilliant, but more importantly he was imbued with the kind of iconoclastic intelligence that produces a scientist who changes the world around him.
Because he died more than four decades ago, Langmuir is not, at least to the layman, a figure who stimulates any kind of recognition, but after viewing this tribute, you certainly walk away with the feeling that he should. He worked as a research scientist at General Electric, one of the two great company-financed research facilities in this country, along with Bell Labs, and from the beginning, he was involved in “pure” research. His projects ranged from the kind of exploration that had no immediate value to pursuits that resulted in enormous payoffs for the company. For instance, Langmuir’s study of gases within contained spaces ultimately resulted in the invention of the incandescent lightbulb, a discovery that transformed the use of electric power throughout the world.
But this invention was only his first major contribution to scientific knowledge that includes atomic hydrogen welding, surface films, a theory of atomic structure, and cloud seeding. A contemporary of such historic figures as Edison, Einstein, Brohr, and Heisenberg and the model for characters in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and Ice-9, Langmuir is a fascinating figure and a compelling subject for this fine historical portrait.

Roger R. Summerhayes, Director
Roger Rl Summerhayes was raised in Schenectady, New York. Making films with friends and working part time as a projectionist, he graduated with a chemistry degree from Union college in 1978. Following a Peace Corps tour in Fiji, he earned a master’s degree in film from Stanford University and completed his first feature, The Mind’s Eye, in 1983. He teaches school on St. Croix and recently completed Langmuir’s World during a year-long sabbatical.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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