Athanase Dupre

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In existographies, Athanase Dupre (147-86 BE) (1808-1869 ACM) (IQ:#|#) was a French mathematician, physicist, chemist, and thermodynamicist; noted for some 40-papers published on thermodynamics, from 1658 to 1668, culminating in the book Mechanical Theory of Heat (1669), described by Maxwell (1876) as “very ingenious”, wherein, citing Sadi Carnot, Emile Clapeyron, Rudolf Clausius, and William Rankine, he talks about molecular attractions experiments he did with his “young and learned colleague” Francois Massieu; his work on soap film tensions was cited by Gibbs (1876).


In 1859 to 1867, Dupre published 40 articles on the mechanical theory of heat; this is summarized as follows:

“It looks as if Dupre was somewhat unhappy with the reaction to his work in number theory. He certainly undertook no further work in number theory following the prize announcement and, for the last ten years of his career, he studied the mechanical theory of heat. He published 40-papers on this topic in the Academy of Sciences and made the concepts of thermodynamics well known in France. His work had a major influence on Francois Massieu (1832-1896), a French engineer known for introducing 'free entropy' in 1869, who was a colleague of Dupré's in Rennes during the 1860s. Massieu in turn influenced the work of Willard Gibbs. During the 1860s Dupré published a series of memoirs on the mechanical theory of heat in the Annales de Chimie et de Physique. Dupré's son, Paul Dupré, who became well-known for experimental work in physics particularly involving capillary forces and surface tension in liquids, undertook some joint work with his father which was reported on in some of these memoirs. In his fifth, sixth and seventh memoirs on the mechanical theory of heat Athanase Dupré applied the principles of thermodynamics to capillary action. His son Paul had devised some ingenious experiments to find how surface tension affected capillary action and these played an important role in Dupré's memoirs. In 1866 Athanase and Paul Dupré jointly published the article ‘On the Law of the Union of Simple Substances, and on Attractions at Small Distances.”
— John O’Connor (2012), “Louis Victoire Athanase Dupre” (co-author: Edmund Robertson)

In 1869, Dupre, in his Mechanical Theory of Heat, solidified all his previous articles into a teaching textbook; from the preface:[1]

“Since the end of the year 1859, I have presented to the Academy a series of memoirs on the 'Théorie mécanique de la chaleur' almost all of which were published in the 'Annales de Chimie et de Physique'. The time seems ripe to correct them, to put them in order, to fill the gaps, and to give my work a form that makes it more useful; this is a work intended to be used for teaching. ... In my opinion, the great utility of mathematical deductions is unquestionable, specific only to deliver in a rigorous manner the consequences of facts or laws provided by observation, or those assumptions that we are sometimes forced to make. We may thus be led to reject these hypotheses or accept such principles after numerous and varied checks leave us no longer in doubt.”
— Athanase Dupre (1869), Mechanical Theory of Heat (preface) [2]

Table of equivalents

Dupre's 1869 "table of equivalents", showing the results of his calculations of "chemical work" on 22 chemical elements and or species.

In 1669, Dupre, in his Mechanical Theory of Heat (pg. 402) gave a so-called “table of equivalents”, shown adjacent, of simple bodies, calculated by the attraction in contact, union forces, and heat capacities, 22 chemical substances; about which he says the following:

“Recapitulation of the laws which give the equivalents. Before our research, we only knew a relationship between chemical equivalents and the quantities measured by physicists. In addition to the calorific capacities, one can today relate the equivalents to the chemical work, to the attractions to the contact and to the forces of union. We will give here a table of their values calculated in these various ways, omitting the use of chemical work, the study of which is still too little advanced..”
— Athanase Dupre (1869), The Mechanical Theory of Heat (pgs. 401-02)

Of note, while Dupre seems to here be pioneering some ground in the history of thermodynamics applied to chemical phenomena (see: history of chemical thermodynamics), as per key word search indicates (entropie; entropy) he does not seem to be employ the newly-coined term entropy (Clausius, 1865) or "entropie", in French and German, but does employ the logic of transformation equivalents, which is the core and original form of entropy. The employment of entropy to mechanical and physical properties of bodies, however, was done by Francois Massieu, that year, in his "Memoir on the Characteristic Functions of Fluids", published in abstracts in 1669 and in full in 1876.[3]


In 1866, Dupre argued, supposedly, that the while the first law may seem to indicated in infinite duration of the present order, the second law points to a finite duration, or something along these lines.[4] Later, in 1864 to 1887, Elme Caro (Ѻ) employed Dupre's reasonings as a basis to argue for a divinely created universe.


Dupre graduated first in his class at the Ecole Normale Superieure in 1829 after which he began teaching mathematics and physics at the College Royal in Rennes and later chair (1847) and dean (1866) of mathematics in the faculty of science at Rennes.



Dupre was influenced by: Sadi Carnot, Emile Clapeyron, Rudolf Clausius, and William Rankine.


Dupre influenced: Francois Massieu and Elme Caro (Ѻ).


Quotes | Employed

The following are quotes employed by Dupre:

“This theorem remains enveloped in an abstract form in which it is hardly accessible to the intelligence, and one feels forced to seek the real physical cause of which this theorem is the consequence.”
Rudolf Clausius (c.1655), “Article”; cited by Athanase Dupre (1869) in The Mechanical Theory of Heat (pgs. 41-42)

Quotes | On

The following are quotes on Dupre:

Athanase Dupre addressed to the Academy a sixth memoir on the ‘mechanical theory of heat’ and molecular mechanics, written in collaboration, for the experimental part, with Paul Dupre, his son. We admire more and more the perseverance, the fertility and the ability of the great learned professor, and we regret not being able to publish soon what he has offered to the Academy, the statements at least of the many propositions that he has established, with the description of new and often curious experiments with which he confirmed his theories.”
— Anon (1866), Meeting of the French Academy of Sciences, Nov 19
“To conclude the marvels of the microscope, we cannot do better than mention a rather new discovery which is inserted in a memoir read at the Académie des Sciences (1866), by Athanase Dupre. Would you know, dear reader, how many molecules there may be in a drop of water? Dupré has proved that a cube of water, visible only with a powerful microscope, contains more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand millions of molecules. The consequence of this enormous figure is, that in a cube of 1/25th of an inch, there would be found more than a hundred and twenty-five quintillions.”
— Alexandre Sauzay (1870), Wonders of Glass-making in All Ages (pg. 285)

Quotes | By

The following are quotes by Dupre:

“The use of weighings in measuring work and molecular forces leads to a precision which has not been hitherto attained. It has become possible to commence the study of attractions at small distances; and there is reason to hope for an early and considerable progress in those branches of the physical sciences which are more directly connected with molecular mechanics.”
— Athanase Dupre (1866), “On the Law of the Union of Simple Substances and on Attractions at Small Distances” (co-author: Paul Dupre)
“In the future, the present order cannot, except for certain modifications, continue forever. In the past, it is certain that there has been a beginning.”
— Athanase Dupre (1866), comment on the first and second law on universal order [4]
“The second principle of the mechanical theory of heat was discovered in 1824 by Sadi Carnot, then developed later with some useful consequences in a remarkable memoir by Clapeyron. But these two scientists lacked knowledge of the ‘principle of equivalence’, and it was only after having been rectified and completed by Clausius and Rankine that Carnot's proposition has become truly correct. Since then, it has been presented in various forms which were to be desired, and Clausius himself said in one of his memoirs: ‘This theorem remains enveloped in an abstract form in which it is hardly accessible to the intelligence, and one feels forced to seek the real physical cause of which this theorem is the consequence’. By changing the way of presenting this principle and its statement, my aim was precisely to make known its exact meaning, so that, in the calculations required by the applications, there are no longer any possible hesitations. on the choice of quantities to be taken into account and on the role they should play. This is an advantage that Clausius' theorem of the equivalence of transformations does not present; with the principle of equality of output, this distinguished scientist would certainly not have introduced changes in disaggregation into the calculations. Moreover, the second principle, in its new form, applies as easily to questions of magnetism or electricity, for example, as to questions relating to heat.”
— Athanase Dupre (1869), The Mechanical Theory of Heat (pgs. 41-42) [1]

End matter


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dupre, Athanase. (1869). Theorie Mechanique de la Chaleur (Mechanical Theory of Heat). Paris: Gauthier-Villars.
  2. Louis Victoire Athanase Dupre (2012) – MacTutor.
  3. Needham, Paul. (2011). Commentary on the Principles of Thermodynamics by Pierre Duhem (pg. 26). Springer.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kragh, Helge S. (2008). Entropic Creation: Religious Contexts of Thermodynamics and Cosmology (Athanase Dupre, pg. 52). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Further reading

  • Dupre, Athanase. (1866). “Fifth Memoir on the Mechanical Theory of Heat” (experimental part in conjunction with Paul Dupre), Annales de Chimie et de Physique. Nov.
  • Joubin, Louis. (1900). History of the Faculty of Sciences at Rennes (Histoire de la Faculté des sciences de Rennes) (Dupre, 20+ pgs). F. Simon.
  • Petit, Axel; Bernard, Dominique. (c.2016). “La Physique et les Physiciens a la Faculte des Sciences de Rennes de 1850 a 1939” (pdf), University of Rennes.

External links

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