Swiss-born Norwegian chemist. He did fundamental work in geochemistry, particularly on the distribution of elements in the Earth's crust. He considered the colossal chemical processes of geological time to be interpretable in terms of the laws of chemical equilibrium.
Geochemistry Using X-ray crystallography Goldschmidt was able to show that, given an electrical balance between positive and negative ions, the most important factor in crystal structure is ionic size. Exhaustive analysis of results from geochemistry, astrophysics, and nuclear physics led to his work on the cosmic abundance of the elements and the links between isotopic stability and abundance. Studies of terrestrial abundance reveal about eight predominant elements. Recalculation of atom and volume percentages lead to the remarkable notion that the Earth's crust is composed largely of oxygen anions (90% of the volume), with silicon and the common metals filling up the rest of the space.
Life Goldschmidt was born in Zürich but moved to Norway as a child and studied at the University of Christiania (now Oslo). He was professor and director of the Mineralogical Institute 1914–29, when he moved to Göttingen, Germany. The rise of Nazism forced him to return to Norway 1935, but during World War II he had to flee again, first to Sweden and then to Britain, where he worked at Aberdeen and Rothamsted (on soil science). He returned to Norway after the end of the war.
During World War II Goldschmidt carried a cyanide capsule for suicide should the Germans have invaded Britain. When a colleague asked for one, he was told: ‘Cyanide is for chemists; you, being a professor of mechanical engineering, will have to use the rope.’