100 Distinguished European Chemists

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Celebration of 100 Distinguished European Chemists from the Chemical Revolution to the 21st Century

The Federation of European Chemical Societies initiated, as a Millennium Project, the celebration of Distinguished European Chemists spanning a period of over two hundred years.

Member societies and individuals were invited to submit their nominations of distinguished European chemists from the end of the 18th century until the present day. In addition to Nobel Prize winners, there were nominations of many others from Europe who have, over more than two centuries, transformed the science and influenced science, industry or society worldwide.

The final list includes a diversity of nationalities. As well as being published in the magazines of the national chemical societies the list is available for viewing here along with a brief biography and details of their achievements.

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[gdlr_tab title=”Europe’s Favourite Chemists?”]

The millennium bug does not only bite computers. Human beings are susceptible to it too. Occasionally this may lead to bizarre behaviour patterns that have only one thing in common: an irresistible desire for some kind of celebrations in the year 2000. Often there is only the foggiest idea as to what is actually being celebrated. That it is notionally 2000 years since the birth of Christ is quite forgotten in general. An additional irony lies in the fact that recent evidence from history, archaeology and astronomy suggests a birth-date about seven years earlier, so the real millennium came and went unnoticed in the early 1990s. However that may be, the grand spirit of revelry and bonhomie cannot be quenched by such mundane considerations, and celebration there shall be. Nor are societies to be left behind in the general euphoria.

In 1998 the Federation of European Chemical Societies (FECS) proposed to celebrate in its own way and to mark the occasion by proclaiming to the world names of the top 100 European chemists. Inclusion in this hall of fame would do little for the individuals concerned for the simple reason that they all had to be dead. However it might gladden the hearts of surviving relatives of a few. It would minister to the pride of nations whose sons and daughters were so honoured, and (if handled properly by the spin doctors) could be a useful reminder to the general public of just how much they owe to the chemists of Europe. And that would be a very good thing indeed.
The only problem was this: how on earth does one try to establish such a list and get general agreement for it? Ask 20 chemists for a short list of their own candidates and you will end up with 20 different answers. Try to be objective and you just give up for lack of agreed criteria. Thus quantitative data gleaned from citation indexes may testify to volume but not quality of a chemist’s work. Being a Nobel prizewinner in chemistry was a possible criterion, but there were not enough of these from Europe – Nobel prizes only started in 1901 – and nor are all Nobel prizewinners equal. There are no sales figures to help us as in establishing which releases are ‘Top of the pops’ (and no comparable audience reactions, come to that!). So what do you do? You ask the public.
In this case one can hardly enquire of the whole population of Europe. Instead FECS made the sensible decision to devolve the early stages of nomination to the member societies. Each was asked to provide its own list. It was suggested that working parties should be established and guidelines were offered. Thus persons proposed should have transformed chemical science and exerted a worldwide influence. They should have conducted the major part of their work in Europe, and so on. The surprising feature of this millennium celebration was that the period concerned stretched back not 2000 or even 1000 years, but a little over 200. At one stage it was suggested that the Chemical Revolution (whatever that was) should be a good starting point. This seemed generally understood to be the reforms associated with Lavoisier at the end of the 18th century, though in practice the list included a few who predated – or even opposed – this Chemical Revolution. So, at a stroke, chemical giants like Paracelsus, Glauber, van Helmont, Hales and even Robert Boyle were excluded automatically. And there were certainly no alchemists. Still, rules are rules, and most countries produced a response broadly on the agreed lines.
The result was a spectacular demonstration of variable response. Eight countries did not reply at all. Whereas most that did (including the UK) made an effort to be fair to everyone and to supply an international list, the names provided by no less than 10 countries consisted exclusively of their own nationals. This possibility was quite unexpected but not formally excluded by the rules. Possibly these respondents thought that everyone would play the game this way. Or maybe they just felt the need to keep their own end up. But if all had done this it is hard to see how a reasonable list could emerge, since each respondent was given equal weight in the analysis. It would have meant the same number of names from (say) France, Slovenia, Italy, Portugal and Ireland. Therefore for the early compilation stages it seemed quite fair to set aside the submissions from these 10 societies. That left 20 others who had all tried to be genuinely international. Gratifyingly these included some of the smaller societies such as those from Finland, Slovenia and Cyprus.
Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the chairman of the Working Group for the History of Chemistry, a computer programme was set up to collate these 20 lists. Although societies had been asked to grade their own nominations, at this stage mention at any point on someone’s list meant that the individual would be counted, and so a single comprehensive table was generated, showing each name nominated with the number of societies giving that person their vote. The winners were at the top, the losers at the bottom. Only two chemists, Lavoisier and Berzelius, scored 100 per cent, with 20 votes each. Few historians of chemistry would quarrel with that result. Yet the total number of names was a formidable 308, and now the matter was firmly in the hands of a nominated committee to come to a conclusion on the matter. All we had to do was to jettison two-thirds of the names proposed!
This committee, which met in Budapest in July, took some fairly obvious steps at the outset. The first task was to eliminate all those who had a score of only one (ie had been mentioned by only one of the 20 societies). That immediately brought the numbers down to a manageable 112; to have excluded those who scored two would have taken numbers well below the required 100. But how to eliminate a mere 12 chemists? Far from being a simple task it proved to be one requiring considerable subtlety and finesse. Every one of the 112 contenders was considered individually.
Some were removed because they were not deemed to be ‘chemists’, though the use of ‘professional’ titles raises huge problems before the mid-19th century. However Volta as a physicist, Boerhaave as a medical man and Krebs as a biochemist were deemed to be out of the running. Less contentiously several names from the 20th century were dropped for the simple reason that their owners were still alive. Yet others disappeared from view because their main chemical work was performed outside Europe. And at this point the ‘frozen’ 10 lists were considered and a number of their high-scoring extra names were added to the main list. After all the additions and subtractions we were within two or three names of our target, and almost there.
It would be tedious to recount the very last stages of the debate, some of which had to be conducted by post after the committee had risen. By 8 July the final list had been agreed and all that remained were the fine points of drafting. Lists for the three centuries were arranged in strictly alphabetical order, with no implication of relative merit. Our ‘100 best chemists’ had emerged.
An exercise of this kind is bound to attract criticism. Perhaps the most ironic note of all was struck by one member of the committee who declared that he did not believe in the value of such exercises and would therefore play no part in them (though he remained as an observer). The rest of us, though sharing many of his doubts, still believed that a credible solution could be found, and pressed on accordingly. We were aware that many aspects of the methodology could be attacked, and ourselves had to make some decisions that did not keep strictly to it. Thus Avogadro the lawyer was admitted, but not several worthy names in modern biochemistry. As often in discussions of this kind the basic question ‘what is a chemist?’ remains tantalisingly unanswered. Then again, the relative weightings of the three centuries (14/42/44) had more than an element of arbitrariness.
Most seriously, in my opinion, was the ambiguity as to whether contributions to applied chemistry were as valid as those to pure chemistry. The general view seemed to be that they were not, and so many famous names from the chemical industry are absent. However Auer, the inventor of the gas-mantle, was considered to have so profoundly affected Victorian society that he is included. Leblanc, whose process founded the alkali industry, does not appear, though his rival inventor Solvay is present. All these cases were subject to much fine tuning and reasons could be given (if anyone were sufficiently interested) for each one of them.
So has it all been worthwhile? As a competitive exercise or an end-of-term report the answer must be decisively ‘no’. We had neither the mandate, the data, nor even the inclination for such a project. Serious work is currently going on that attempts to acquire and organise quantitative data that may go some way to establishing criteria of excellence (amongst many other things). It is called prosopography. But this exercise is emphatically not part of that. Our overall conclusion must inevitably be impressionistic rather than precise. What we have recorded is not the value of individuals but rather public perceptions about them. And these, of course, depend on may other things than sheer worth.
In terms of national contributions there are few surprises. The ‘big three’, Germany, the UK and France, have respectively 28, 24 and 15 per cent of the nominations. There is then a large gap until Sweden and Russia each gain 5 per cent, all the other countries being below that figure. But one hardly needed an exercise of this kind to establish these orders of magnitude. It would be rather a pity if anyone drew jingoistic conclusions from these data, and even more so if any of the low-scoring countries were to become discouraged. By all means engage in critical historical analysis to find what has been conducive to the successful prosecution of chemistry. Some historians of chemistry are already doing just that, and they deserve every encouragement. But do not suppose that this is what we have done.
What has emerged is a list of 100 men and women who have performed distinguished work in European chemistry, helped to change the physical world that we inhabit, and have been widely recognised by their peers. On the question of peer-recognition the exercise displays another interesting insight. There is a huge gap between an understanding of chemical history gleaned en passant by ordinary chemists in the normal course of their work, and that derived from sustained historical study. It confirms the case for doing everything possible to make the historians’ work accessible to the working chemist. But that is by the way.
The chief function of our labours will hopefully be to supply a useful tool in the new century’s efforts to foster the public understanding of chemistry. One thing is certain, and this is that without a strong human dimension in the communication of chemistry that task will fail. Perhaps our list will be fuel for the popularisers of science, and for chemistry teachers. Making it was fun. If we were to try again next week we should probably come to about the same conclusions. But it would not be quite the same list.
Colin Russell is emeritus and visiting research professor in the department of history of science and technology at the Open University, Milton Keynes MK6 7AA UK.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent an official report of FECS.


Choosing Europe’s top 100 chemists was never going to be easy in Colin Russell’s view (published in Chemistry in Britain, February 2000)

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[gdlr_tab title=”18th Century”]

  • Bergman, Torbern Olof (1735-1784)
    Born: Katrineberg (Sweden), 20 March 1735 Died: Medevi (Sweden), 8 July 1784
  • Bergman was a very talented and many-sided scientist who contributed to physics, astronomy, geology and mineralogy, but above all to chemistry. He obtained his doctorate at the University of Uppsala in 1758 and became professor of chemistry in 1767 after Wallerius. Bergman’s main claim to fame is the development of quantitative analysis by the wet way which he first published in 1778 (De analysi aquarium). He also studied carbon dioxide and, based on his thorough chemical knowledge and analytical skills, developed procedures to make artificial mineral waters. Bergman was one of the founders of chemical mineralogy and he also devised an improved version of Geoffrey’s affinity tables. Although Bergman died of tuberculosis before reaching the age of 50, he developed Uppsala to a leading centre of chemistry in Europe. Bergman’s talented students like Scheele, Gadolin, Hjelm and the Elhyar brothers carried on his work. During his lifetime the translation of Bergman’s works, originally published in Latin or Swedish, had been initiated; in France the translator was Gyuton de Morveau.
  • Berthollet, Claude Louis (1748-1822)
    Born: Tailloire (France), 1748 Died: Arceuil near Paris (France), 1822
  • Berthollet studied medicine in Turin (1768). In 1784 he became director of the national Gobelin factories and in 1794 professor of chemistry at the Ecole polytechnique. Berthollet was one of the first chemists to adopt Antoine Lavoisier´s antiphlogistic system. He defended the opinion that the quantitative composition of chemical compounds depends on the relative quantities of the reagents during reactions. His investigations of ammonia and halogen salts were exemplary. He introduced chlorine as bleaching agent. Berthollet was considered one of the leading chemists of his time and was greatly honoured during his lifetime.
  • Black, Joseph (1728-1799)
    Born: Bordeaux (France), 1728 Died: Edinburgh (Scotland), 1799
  • Black studied languages and natural philosophy in Glasgow in 1746 and medicines in 1748. He obtained a doctors degree from Edinburgh in 1754. From 1756 – 1766 he was professor at Glasgow and later in Edinburgh from 1766 – 1799. Black studied gases by heating calcium carbonate and eventually obtained “fixed air”, carbon dioxide. He later introduced this research to his pupil Daniel Rutherford. He was convinced that heat, light and electricity were intangible, unweighable matter. He discovered magnesium carbonate in 1755.
  • Cavendish, Henry (1731-1810)
    Born : Nizza (France), 1731 Died : London (England), 1810
  • Cavendish studied natural sciences at Cambridge from 1749-1753. From 1753 he carried out private laboratory investigations on gases and discovered hydrogen and nitrogen using an improved eudiometer. He determined the densities of various gases and studied the composition of water. Cavendish was able to determine the gravitational constant in Newton’s laws.
  • Gadolin, Johan (1760-1852)
    Born: Turku (Åbo), Finland, on June 5, 1760 Died: Mynämäki (Virmo), Finland, on August 15, 1852
  • Gadolin’s family included scientists and clergymen; both his father and maternal grandfather were Professors of Physics at the Royal Academy of Turku. Finland belonged at that time to Sweden and thus it was natural for the young Gadolin to go to the University of Uppsala to continue his studies in chemistry under Professor T. Bergman. Gadolin’s doctoral thesis on the analysis of iron was finished in 1781. During 1786-88 Gadolin made an extensive study tour in Europe visiting among others R. Kirwan in Ireland. He was appointed in 1797 to the chemistry professorship in Turku, a post he held until his retirement in 1822. Most of his publications dealt with inorganic and analytical chemistry but he also made significant contributions to thermochemistry. Gadolin’s best known achievement was in 1794 the discovery of yttria which was a new earth (element in oxide form), present in a black mineral found seven years earlier in Ytterby quarry near Stockholm. This was the first rare earth (lanthanide) element discovered; later the mineral was named in his honour gadolinite and element 64 gadolinium. Gadolin wrote in 1798 “Inledning till Chemien” (Introduction to chemistry) which is considered to be the first antiphlogistonic textbook in Swedish.
  • Kirwan, Richard (1735-1812)
    Born: Cloughballymore, County of Galway (Ireland), 1 August 1733 Died: Dublin (Ireland), 22 June 1812
  • Kirwan studied law in the University of Poitiers, then in England and Germany and practised it as a lawyer in London. Much of his chemical research was done in his house in London. He returned in 1787 permanently to Dublin becoming in 1799 President of the Royal Irish Academy. Kirwan drew up the first table of specific heats in 1780 and defended the phlogiston theory supposing phlogiston to be identical with hydrogen. Kirwan’s book on phlogiston was translated into French by Madame Lavoisier with a rebuttal added by her husband. By the middle of the 1790s Kirwan’s publications show that he also had adopted Lavoisier’s views. Kirwan belonged to the leading analytical chemists of his time carrying out accurate analyses of minerals and mineral waters. During his studies on affinity he also determined the equivalent weights of mineral acids and some metals.
  • Klaproth, Martin Heinrich (1743-1817)
    Born: Wernigerode (Prussian Saxony), 1743 Died: Berlin (Germany)
  • Kirwan studied law in the University of Poitiers, then in England and Germany and practised it as a lawyer in London. Much of his chemical research was done in his house in London. He returned in 1787 permanently to Dublin becoming in 1799 President of the Royal Irish Academy. Kirwan drew up the first table of specific heats in 1780 and defended the phlogiston theory supposing phlogiston to be identical with hydrogen. Kirwan’s book on phlogiston was translated into French by Madame Lavoisier with a rebuttal added by her husband. By the middle of the 1790s Kirwan’s publications show that he also had adopted Lavoisier’s views. Kirwan belonged to the leading analytical chemists of his time carrying out accurate analyses of minerals and mineral waters. During his studies on affinity he also determined the equivalent weights of mineral acids and some metals.
  • Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent (1743-1794)
    Born: Paris (France), 1743 Died: Paris (France), 1794
  • Lavoisier studied classic literature, philosophy, logics, astronomy, geology at the Collège Mazarin. Lavoisier started his chemical research in 1764. He developed a new method for preparing salpeter (1770). In 1776 he proposed a theory of combustion based on oxidation (anti-phlogiston). In 1787 he introduced a new nomenclature of chemical compounds (together with Berthollet, Fourcroy and Guyton de Morveau). In 1789 Lavoisier published his textbook “Elementary Treatise on Chemistry”. He died during the French Revolution in 1794 under the guillotine, because of his work as tax-farmer.
  • Lomonosov, Mikhail Vasilievich (1711-1765)
    Born: Denisovka near Archangelsk (Russia), 1711 Died: St. Petersburg (Russia), 1765
  • Lomonosov was the son of a fisherman who taught himself classical languages and philosophy. In 1736-1741 he spent in Germany where he also studied the sciences. In 1745 he was appointed professor of chemistry. Lomonosov was a poet and grammarian who is often considered to be the first great Russian linguistic reformer, but he also did extensive works on the topics of chemistry and physics. Departing from an atomistic concept of matter he predicted that heat is produced by rotating particles with high friction, thus denying the validity of the then prevalent phologiston theory of combustion. He also did research on colours and on glass.
  • Priestley, Joseph (1733-1804)
    Born: Fieldhead (England), 1733 Died: Northumberland (USA, Pennsylvania), 1804
  • Priestley was a Unitarian minister and he never studied science formally. Under the influence of Benjamin Franklin, Priestley carried out research on electricity (1769). In 1772 he isolated a number of gases, such as nitrous oxide and in 1774 he isolated a new gas “dephlogisticated air” (oxygen) and studied the properties of this new gas. Priestley also recognized the fact that plants were influenced by light (photosynthesis).
  • Richter, Jeremias Benjamin (1762-1807)
    Born: Hirschberg (Jelenia Gora) (Germany), 1762 Died: Berlin (Germany), 1807
  • Richter studied philosophy, under Immanuel Kant, and mathematics at Königsberg. In1785 he obtained a doctoral degree with a dissertation on the use of mathematics in chemistry. He never reached an academic position and experimented at his own expense. His most important contribution to chemistry was the discovery of the law of equivalent proportions. He also introduced the term ‘stoichiometry’ into chemistry.
  • Ruprecht, Antal (1748-1818)
    Born: Schmöllnitz/Smolnik (Hungary, now Slovakia, 1748 Died: Wien (Austria), 1814
  • Ruprecht graduated from the Mining Academy of Selmecbány established in 1763. He was appointed to be professor chemistry and metallurgy in 1779. He was among the first who regarded the so-called “soils” as complex substances, and tried to show this by experiments. He succeeded in melting platinum first and he had a part in the discovery of tellurium.
  • Scheele, Carl Wilhelm (1742-1786)
    Born: Stralsund (Sweden), 9 December 1742 Died: Köping (Sweden), 21 May 1786
  • At the age of fourteen Scheele was apprenticed to an apothecary in Gothenburg and later in Malmö where he started to conduct chemical experiments. While working in a pharmacy in Uppsala in 1770 he was introduced to the leading Swedish chemist of that time T.O. Bergman. Scheele received advice and help from Bergman but never formally studied chemistry. Nevertheless, he became one of the greatest experimental chemists of all times discovering new elements and substances in greater variety than any other person before him. He was involved in the discovery of the elements and simple compounds of chlorine, fluorine, manganese, barium, molybdenum, tungsten and oxygen. It has been established that Scheele’s discovery of oxygen took place in 1771, or before Priestley and Lavoisier. Scheele published his studies mostly in the proceedings of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm which called the self-made scientist to be its full member. Due to the significant achievements in inorganic chemistry, Scheele’s accomplishments in organic chemistry are often overlooked. He was the first one to separate and characterise organic acids such as tartaric, citric, benzoic, malic and oxalic. Since 1775 Scheele worked as an apothecary in a small town of Köping where he also died at the early age of 43 years. His death may have been caused by long-term exposure to highly toxic substances such as arsenic acid and hydrogen cyanide which also belong to the compounds first prepared by Scheele.
  • Vauquelin, Louis Nicolas (1763-1829)
    Born: Hébertôt (France), 1763 Died: Hébertôt (France), 1829
  • Vauquelin studied pharmacy in Rouen and in Paris (with Fourcroy). He became professor at the Ecole Polytechnique (Paris), the Collège de France (1801), the Special School for Pharmacy (1804-1811), the Jardin des Plantes (1811-1823) and at the Medical Faculty of the Sorbonne. He discovered beryllium (1789) and osmium (1804). In 1806 he isolated the first amino acid “asparagine”.

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  • Arrhenius, Svante August (1859-1927)
    Born: Wik near Uppsala (Sweden), 19 February 1859 Died: Stockholm (Sweden), 2 October 1927
  • Arrhenius was a brilliant student who learned to read at the age of three and graduated from secondary school as the youngest and brightest in his class. University studies in chemistry, physics and mathematics then followed in Uppsala where he also received his doctoral degree in 1884. His thesis on the galvanic conduction of electrolytes marked a breakthrough in chemistry because it explained the conductivity of the electrolytes by dissociation into positive and negative ions. This revolutionary theory was met with much opposition but became gradually accepted. The early proponents of the theory were W. Ostwald and J.H. vant Hoff who together with Arrhenius are considered as founders of modern physical chemistry. Arrhenius was rewarded in 1903 with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

    In 1891 Arrhenius moved to the newly founded University of Stockholm where four years later his post was converted to a professorship in physics. In 1905 Arrhenius was appointed director of the Nobel Institute for Physical Chemistry in Stockholm. During his later years Arrhenius became increasingly interested in cosmic physics and the origin of life on earth. He suggested that life had begun when living spores had wandered through the empty space to earth. He was also one of the first scientists to study the influence of carbon dioxide on the earth’s temperature, which is now known as the “greenhouse effect”.

  • Auer, Karl (1858-1929)
    Born: Vienna (Austria), 1858 Died: Welsbach Castle (Carinthia), 1929
  • Auer studied in Heidelberg under Bunsen. There he grew interested in rare earths. He isolated praseodymium and neodymium. In 1885 he patented a new method of gas lighting, he improved Edison’s lamp by introducing a metallic filament and finally he found a new metallic mixture to produce sparks, its most common use is as flints in cigarette lighters.
  • Avogadro, Amedeo (1776-1856)
    Born: Turin (Italy), 1776 Died: Turin (Italy), 1856
  • Avogadro studied law (1796) before turning to science. He became professor of physics at the University of Turin. In 1811 he proposed his famous hypothesis that all gases (at a given temperature) contain the same number of particles per unit volume. He specified that particles needed not to be individual atoms, but might be combinations of atoms (molecules). He was the first to distinguish between atoms and molecules in this way.
  • Baeyer, Johan Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf (1835-1917)
    Born: Berlin (Germany), 1835 Died: Starnberg near München (Germany), 1917
  • Baeyer studied under Robert Bunsen and August Kekulé, and in 1873 became successor of Justus Liebig in München. Baeyer did fundamental research on uric acid, indigo, phthaleine derivatives, terpenes, peroxides andacetylene etc. He is also known for his theory of tension (Spannungstheorie) of ring molecules. In 1905 he was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry.
  • Berthelot, Pierre Eugène Marcelin (1827-1907)
    Born: Paris (France), 1827 Died: Paris (France), 1907
  • After studying under Antoine Jérôme Balard he became professor in 1859, since 1865 he taught at the Collège de France. In 1886/87 Berthelot was Minister of Education, in 1895/96 Foreign Minister. He published many papers on thermochemistry, organic syntheses (sugars, terpenes, glycerides, fats and many others), and the history of alchemy. As one of the foremost chemists of the late 19th century he was much honoured during and after his lifetime.
  • Berzelius, Jöns Jakob (1779-1848)
    Born: Väversunda Sörgård (Sweden), 20 August 1779 Died: Stockholm (Sweden), 7 August 1848
  • Berzelius lost both his parents in his childhood but nevertheless received good secondary education in Linköping and was able to enrol in 1796 at the University of Uppsala to study medicine. During medical studies he was taught chemistry by A.G. Ekeberg, the discoverer of tantalum.

    His first publication in 1800 dealt with the analysis of Medevi spa water but his doctoral thesis two years later was of medical nature discussing the effects of galvanotherapy. Berzelius preferred chemistry to medicine but had to first serve as regional physician near Stockholm before the wealthy mine-owner W. Hisinger provided him with laboratory facilities in Stockholm. The collaboration with Hisinger lead to the discovery of a new element, cerium, in 1803 and helped him to obtain a professorship of chemistry at the Royal Carolinian Medico-Surgical Institute. He gave up this post after being elected secretary of the Royal Academy of Sciences.

    The research of Berzelius was characterised by systematic diligence, chemical instinct and experimental precision unparalleled by other 19th century researchers. Besides cerium, several other elements (selenium, silicon, thorium) were discovered by him and the present chemical symbols were suggested by him. His determination of accurate atomic weights based on thousands of analyses allowed the composition of chemical compounds to be ascertained and corroborated the law of definite proportions. The early experiments with electricity and electrolysis lead Berzelius to develop the dualistic theory of bonding which could be successfully applied to inorganic compounds but not to organic ones.

    Berzelius was also a prolific writer whose Textbook of Chemistry ran through several editions and was translated into five languages. Even more influential was the series of Annual Reports written by Berzelius from 1821 until his death. In these reports, which year by year grew in size, Berzelius summarised the most important achievements of the previous year and gave his judgement. Often he gave an explanation and coined a name for a new phenomenon such as catalysis and polymerisation. Berzelius was undoubtedly the leading chemical authority in Europe during the first half of the 19th century. His influence was further strengthened by extensive correspondence and through students which included among others F. Wöhler, E. Mitscherlich and the Rose brothers.

  • Bunsen, Robert Wilhelm Eberhard (1811-1899)
    Born: Göttingen (Germany), 1811 Died: Heidelberg (Germany) 1899
  • As successor of Friedrich Wöhler in 1836 Bunsen became teacher at a technical high school in Kassel, later professor in Marburg, Breslau (Wroclaw), and Heidelberg. His work covered research on cacodyl compounds, analysis of blast furnace gases, iodometry, isolation of Magnesium, Calcium, Lithium, and Aluminium with a zinc-carbon battery (Bunsen-Element). He also invented the hydrojet pump, a new photometre, a new valve, and the Bunsen burner. Together with Gustav Kirchhoff he developed spectral analysis and discovered the elements Rubidium and Caesium.
  • Butlerov, Alexander Mikhailovich (1828-1886)
    Born: Tschistopol near Kazan (Russia), 1828 Died: Biarritz (France), 1886
  • Butlerov was professor in Kazan (1857) and St. Petersburg (1868). He was one of the foremost theorists of structural chemistry which lead him to do research in isomers. He also studied polymerisation reactions and synthesised the first artificial sugar, a mixture of hexoses.
  • Cannizzaro, Stanislao (1826-1910)
    Born: Palermo (Italy), 1826 Died: Rome (Italy), 1910
  • Cannizzaro was professor of physics and chemistry in Alessandria (1851), he was later professor of chemistry in Genua (1855), Palermo, (1861) and Rome (1871). He conducted research on natural compounds like santonin, the synthesis of cyanamide and the disproportionation of aldehydes (Cannizarro´s reaction, 1853). At the international congress in Karlsruhe (1860) he successfully defended Avogadro’s hypothesis.
  • Claisen, Ludwig (1851-1930)
    Born: Köln (Germany), 1851 Died: Godesberg near Bonn (Germany), 1930
  • Claisen was professor in Aachen in 1890, Kiel in 1897 and Berlin in 1904. Several syntheses especially condensation reactions between aldehydes, ketones, and esters (1881-1890) are connected with Claisen´s name. He also carried out research on tautomerism and rearrangement reactions (Umlagerungsreaktionen).
  • Dalton, John (1766-1844)
    Born: Eaglesfield (England), 1766 Died: Manchester (England), 1844
  • Dalton left school at the age of eleven and in 1778 he started teaching at a Quaker school. Dalton’s scientific research started with meteorology. In 1794 he was the first to describe colour blindness. Dalton also studied the composition of air and gases and in 1801 he promulgated the law of partial pressures. Two years later he enunciated the law of multiple proportions. Dalton first advanced atomic notions and in 1808 he published the “New System of Chemical Philosophy”. He was also the first to prepare a table of atomic weights. Nowadays one name used for the measure of atomic weights is the dalton.
  • Davy, Humphry (1778-1829)
    Born: Penzance (England), 1778 Died: Geneva (Switzerland), 1829
  • Davy studied pharmacy by self-education but after reading Lavoisier’s textbook he became a chemist in 1797. He studied the therapeutic properties of gases and in 1800 reported the unusual properties of nitrous oxide. This gas was the first chemical anaesthetic. In 1801 he became a lecturer at the newly founded Royal Institution in London. In 1813 he published the first textbook dealing with the application of chemistry to agriculture. However, his true fame is in electricity due to his invention in 1805 of the Davy lamp, which was of utmost importance for the mining industry. In 1808 he isolated barium, strontium, calcium and magnesium. Davy also proved that hydrochloric acid did not contain oxygen.
  • de Marignac, Jean Charles Galissard (1817-1894)
    Born: Geneva (Switzerland), 1817 Died: Geneva (Switzerland), 1894
  • Marignac studied in Paris under Dumas and in Giessen at the laboratory of Liebig. In 1841 he became professor at the University of Geneva. He determined atomic weights and worked with rare earths. He his given credit for the discovery of ytterbium and gadolinium.
  • Dumas, Jean Baptiste André (1800-1884)
    Born: Alès (former Alais) (France), 1800 Died: Cannes (France), 1884
  • As one of the leading chemists of the 19th century Dumas was professor in several institutions in Paris (since 1829). In 1850/51 he was Minister of Agriculture, 1868 he became mintmaster general of France. Among his many papers those on etherin theory, on the theory substitution, on the theory of types, on the measurement of vapour densities and on the determination of nitrogen in organic compounds, on the isolation of anthracene from tar, on chloral, iodoform, bromoform, and on picric acid merit special mention.
  • Faraday, Michael (1791-1867)
    Born: Newington (England), 1791 Died: Hampton Court (England), 1867
  • Faraday as autodidact followed the lectures of H.Davy. In 1813 he became the assistant of Davy and accompanied him during his travels to France and Italy where he met Vauquelin and Volta. In 1825 he discovered benzene. He carried on Davy’s great work in electrochemistry. Faraday reduced the matter of electrolysis to quantitative terms by announcing the well known laws of electrolysis. He also successfully converted electrical and magnetic forces into continual mechanical movement. He invented the first transformer.
  • Fischer, Emil (1852-1919)
    Born: Euskirchen near Köln (Germany), 1852 Died: Berlin (Germany), 1919
  • Fischer began his career as student of Adoph v. Baeyer, in 1879 he became professor in München (1879), Erlangen (1881), Würzburg (1885), and Berlin (1892). In 1883 Fischer found a synthesis for indol, later he did research on purines (1880-84), on sugars, on barbituric acid, and on amino-acids. In 1902 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
  • Frankland, Edward (1825-1899)
    Born: Churchton, Lancashire (England), 1825 Died: Golaa (Norway), 1899
  • Frankland taught himself chemistry. He went to Germany, where he met Kolbe, Liebig and Bunsen. He obtained his Ph.D. in Marburg (1849). In 1865 he succeeded Hofmann at the Royal College of Chemistry. He was the first to prepare organometallic compounds. This study led him to devise the theory of valence in 1852. Beginning in 1868 Frankland did a lot of work on river pollution, an important subject in industrial England.
  • Fresenius, Carl Remigius (1818-1897)
    Born: Frankfurt-am-Main (Germany), 1818 Died: Wiesbaden (Germany), 1897
  • Fresenius became an apprentice apothecary and worked in the private laboratory of C. Marquart, professor in pharmacy in Bonn. He compiled, in 1841, a manual for qualitative analysis. In 1842 he took his Ph.D. as an assistant of Liebig. He also published a manual for quantitative analysis. Both books, reprinted several times and translated, were the bible of the time for analytical chemists. He founded, in 1848 in Wiesbaden, a very famous institute where analytical chemistry was taught and chemical analysis were done. In 1862 he founded the Zeitschrift für Analytische Chemie, which played a leading role.
  • Gay-Lussac, Joseph Louis (1778-1850)
    Born: St. Leonard (France), 1778 Died: Paris (France), 1850
  • Gay-Lussac studied at the Ecole Polytechnique. He graduated in 1800. He became professor in chemistry at the Ecole Polytechnique (1806), in physics in the Sorbonne (1809) and in chemistry in the Jardin des Plantes (1832). In 1802 he showed that different gases all expanded by equal amounts with a rise in temperature. He isolated boron without electricity (1808). In 1809 he announced the law of combining volumes of gases. He added new techniques to the armory of analytical chemistry. In 1811 he determined the elementary composition of sugar for the first time.
  • Graham, Thomas (1805-1869)
    Born: Glasgow (Scotland), 1805 Died: London (England), 1869
  • Graham graduated in 1826 and by 1830 he was professor of chemistry of the University of Glasgow. His researches on the diffusion of gases and liquids and phosphoric acids are of fundamental importance. He studied a variety of colloidal systems and coined the term “dialysis”. He can be considered as one of the founders of physical chemistry. In 1841 Graham became the first president of the Chemical Society of London.
  • Hofmann, August Wilhelm (1818-1892)
    Born: Giessen (Germany), 1818 Died: Berlin (Germany), 1892
  • Hofmann was a pupil of Justus Liebig. From 1845 to 1864 he was professor at several institutions in London. After that he served as professor in Bonn and Berlin. His main field of research were organic nitrogen compounds like aniline and toluidine. He became one of the initiators of the coal-tar dyestuff industry. In 1851 he postulated an ammonia type of organic compounds and showed that ammonia salts can be transformed to tertiary amines. Hofmann also produced formaldehyde from methanol and introduced an apparatus for the electrolysis of water.
  • Kekulé, Friedrich August (1829-1896)
    Born: Darmstadt (Germany), 1829 Died: Bonn (Germany), 1896
  • Kekulé, who started studies in architecture, turned himself to chemistry led by Liebig in Giessen (1849-1851). After his doctors degree in Giessen (1852), he traveled through England and France, where he did research under Williamson and Dumas. In 1856 he obtained a professorship at Heidelberg. By that time he announced the tetravalence of carbon (1853). In 1858 he took up a professorship at the University of Ghent (Belgium). In 1865 he introduced the structure of benzene and in 1867 Kekulé moved to Bonn.
  • Kolbe, Adolph Wilhelm Hermann (1818-1884)
    Born: Elliehausen near Göttingen (Germany), 1818 Died: Leipzig (Germany), 1884
  • Kolbe studied with Friedrich Wöhler and Robert Bunsen and after 1845 spent 2 years in London with Lyon Playfair. Then he was professor in Marburg (1851) and in Leipzig (1865). As one of the best experimentors of his time he conducted research of the reaction of carbon disulphide and chlorine, the synthesis of acetic acid from inorganic matter, the transformation of alcohols into carboxylic acids and the synthesis of salicylic acid. Relying on the fact that many organic compounds are derivatives of carbonic acid Kolbe professed a type theory of his own making while rejecting Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff´s and Achille Le Bel´s tetrahedron model of carbon.
  • Laurent, Auguste (1807-1853)
    Born: St. Maurice (France), 1807 Died: Paris (France), 1853
  • Laurent earned a degree as a mining engineer (1837), and served as assistant to Dumas, then he became professor of chemistry at Bordeaux (1838). Laurent fought against the dualistic theory of Berzelius. He classified organic compounds according to the characteristic groupings of atoms within a molecule. His suggestion formed the basis of the Geneva nomenclature adopted for organic chemistry in 1892.
  • Le Chatelier, Henri Louis (1850-1936)
    Born: Paris (France), 1850 Died Miribel-les-Echelles (France), 1936
  • Le Châtelier graduated from the Ecole des Mines and in 1827 became professor of general chemistry at the School of Mines. He is best known for his rule (1888) on the chemical equilibrium. Le Châtelier’s principle was of the utmost importance to rationalise the chemical industry.
  • Liebig, Justus (1803-1873)
    Born: Darmstadt (Germany), 1803 Died: München (Germany), 1873
  • In 1824 Liebig became professor in Giessen where he established a laboratory to teach the methods of chemical research. In 1852 he moved to München. Liebig´s work covered technical chemistry (galvanoplastic, silver-plating of glass etc.), analytical chemistry (separation of Ni and Co, quantitative determination of prussic acid, methods for organic elementary analysis), research in inorganic chemistry (isomerism of cyanic and fulminic acid) and research in organic chemistry especially on ´radicals´ (benzaldehyde etc.), sometimes in co-operation with Friedrich Wöhler. He also worked on the chemistry of chlorinated substances like chloral, chloroform etc. and on many others. Liebig is also one of the founders of agricultural chemistry (mineral fertilisers and extract of beef).
  • Mendeléev, Dmitri Ivanovich (1834-1907)
    Born: Tobolsk (Russia), 1834 Died: St.-Petersburg (Russia), 1907
  • Mendeleev studied in St.-Petersburg (1855), then went to France and Germany for graduate training under Bunsen. He attended the Karlsruhe Congress in 1860 and became professor of chemistry at the University of St.-Petersburg in 1866. Mendeleev could arrange all the elements known in his time (63) in order of atomic weights and get periodic rises and falls of valence (1869). This table is called the periodic table. Mendeleev left gaps in his table and announced that the gap represented elements not yet discovered. Mendeleev and his table brought order to the list of elements and served as a guide for chemists half a century later.
  • Meyer, Julius Lothar (1830-1895)
    Born: Varel (Germany), 1830 Died: Tübingen (Germany), 1895
  • Meyer earned a degree as a physician in 1854 and a Ph.D. at the University of Breslau in 1858. He studied under Bunsen and Kirchhoff. Meyer was very influenced by Cannizzaro’s remarks at the Karlsruhe Congress (1860). He published a textbook of chemistry (1864) with the new concepts of molecules as oxygen, nitrogen. He concentrated on a periodic system of chemical elements, but he did not predict, as Mendeleev did, the existence of undiscovered elements.
  • Moissan, Ferdinand Frédéric Henri (1852-1907)
    Born: Paris (France), 1852 Died: Paris (France), 1907
  • Moissan studied pharmacy (1879), and earned his Ph.D. in 1885. He then joined the Faculty of the School of Pharmacy in Paris (1886) and moved on to the Sorbonne in 1900. Moissan’s teacher, E. Frémy, was interested in the isolation of the element fluorine. Numerous chemists had already tried to do this. Moisson attempted different techniques and finally he isolated the gas on June 26, 1886. Fluorine is the most active of all the elements. For this research was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1906.
  • Ostwald, Friedrich Wilhelm (1853-1932)
    Born: Riga (Latvia, Russia), 1853 Died: Großbothen near Leizig (Germany), 1932
  • In 1881 Ostwald became professor at a polytechnic institute in Riga, in 1887 in Leipzig (first chair for physical chemistry). After 1877 Ostwald occupied himself with the problem of chemical affinities and of slow chemical reactions. After 1884 together with Svante Arrhenius he studied the conductivities of electrolytes and found the ´law of dilution´ (Verdünnungs-gesetz). He also worked on the equilibria and velocities of chemicals and established a ´rule of steps´ (Stufenregel) for the gradual course of certain chemical reactions. Other fields of investigation were catalysis (preparation of nitric acid, autocatalysis) and systematisation of colours. Ostwald also wrote extensively on natural philosophy and the history of science. In 1909 he was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry.
  • Pasteur, Louis (1822-1895)
    Born: Dôle (France), 1822 Died: St.-Cloud (France), 1895
  • Pasteur was not a remarkably good student in chemistry, he received the mark “mediocre”. However, he attended the lectures of Dumas in Paris, which fired him with enthusiasm. Pasteur studied the crystals of tartrates under the microscope. He separated the two different types of asymmetric crystals and proved that they were optical isomers (1848). This achievement made him famous and in 1854 he became professor at the University of Lille. There he discovered that fermentation did involve living organisms, which could be killed by gentle heating (pasteurisation). Pasteur also did a lot of work in medicine e.g. the theory of infectious diseases, and the use of vaccinations (he is considered as the founder of bacteriology).
  • Perkin, William Henry (Sir) (1838-1907)
    Born: London (England), 1838 Died Sudbury (England), 1907
  • Perkin studied under Hofmann, for whom he became an assistant in 1855. After the accidental discovery of mauveine at the age of eighteen, Perkin started to build a dye factory. He stimulated the development of synthetic dyes. In 1874 he sold his factory and returned to research. He synthesised coumarin, which marked the start of the synthetic perfume industry.
  • Proust, Joseph Louis (1754-1826)
    Born: Angers (France), 1754 Died: Angers (France), 1826
  • Proust studied under Guillaume Francois Rouelle. In 1777 he became professor in Segovia, later in Salamanca and Madrid. In 1797 he formulated his law of constant proportions independent of the way a specific compound is synthesised. In a dispute with Berthollet 1801-1808 he defended his opinion by analysing many compounds. He returned to France in 1808. Proust also investigated several foodstuffs and discovered leucine.
  • Ramsay, William (1852-1916)
    Born: Glasgow (Scotland), 1852 Died: High Wycombe (England), 1916
  • Ramsay studied chemistry at the University of Glasgow (1866) and in Germany under Bunsen (1871). He obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Tübingen and became professor of chemistry at the University College in Bristol (1880) and at the University College in London (1887). Although chiefly interested in organic chemistry he grew intrigued by the problem posed by Rayleigh (1892), that nitrogen obtained from air was denser than that obtained from compounds. Using the spectroscope Ramsay and Rayleigh could identify a new family of chemical elements with valence of zero. They discovered the nobel gases: argon (1894), helium (1895), and neon, krypton and xenon (1898). Ramsay received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1904, while Rayleigh received the Nobel Prize in physics the same year.
  • Sainte-Claire Deville, Henri Etienne (1818-1881)
    Born: St. Thomas (Virgin Islands), 1818 Died: Boulogne-sur Seine (France), 1881
  • Sainte-Claire Deville studied chemistry with Thénard. He received a professorial appointment at the University of Besançon in 1845, at the Ecole Normale in Paris in 1851 and at the Sorbonne in 1859. He discovered a method to prepare aluminium at a very low price and he worked on the metallurgy of platinum and tantalum.
  • Solvay, Ernest (1838-1922)
    Born: Rebecq-Rognon (Belgium), 1838 Died: Brussels (Belgium), 1922
  • Solvay had little formal education. In the gasworks of his uncle he worked out several methods of purifying gas. He dissolved ammonia and carbon dioxide in salt water, the solution produced a precipitate that turned out to be sodium bicarbonate. Solvay took out his first patent in 1861, founded a company and after three years settled down to success. By 1913 he was producing virtually the entire world supply of sodium bicarbonate. He founded the International Institute for Physics and Chemistry in Brussels (1894), where the famous Solvay-congresses were held.
  • Stas, Jean Servais (1813-1891)
    Born: Leuven (Belgium), 1813 Died Brussels (Belgium), 1891
  • Stas worked under the direction of Dumas, with whom he established the atomic weight of carbon. Stas was appointed as professor at the Military School in Brussels in 1840 and worked assiduously in determining atomic weights more accurately than had ever been done before. Stas’ aim to prove the hypothesis of Proust, that all atoms were conglomerations of hydrogen atoms, could not become achieved. Stas was probably the most skilful, chemical analyst of the nineteenth century.
  • Van ‘t Hoff, Jacobus Henricus (1852-1911)
    Born: Rotterdam (The Netherlands), 1852 Died: Berlin (Germany), 1911
  • Van ‘t Hoff studied at the Polytechnical School at Delft (1869-1871), at the University of Leiden (1871-1872), in Bonn with Kekulé (1872), in Paris with Wurtz (1873) and obtained his doctor’s degree in Utrecht (1874). He published in 1874 his famous article about the tetrahedral arrangement of the carbon atom, which could prove the optical isomery of carbon compounds. He was offered a professorship in Amsterdam (1879-1896). He went to work on thermodynamics. In 1884 he developed the dynamic equilibrium model of chemical reactions. In 1886 the theory of the osmotic pressure of diluted solutions. In 1896 he transferred his labors to Berlin. When the Nobel Prizes were established in 1901, Van ‘t Hoff received the first Nobel Prize for chemistry.
  • Werner, Alfred (1866-1919)
    Born: Mulhouse (France), 1866 Died: Zürich (Switzerland), 1919
  • Werner earned his Ph.D. at the University of Zürich in Switzerland (1890) and did postdoctoral work with Berthelot in Paris. Beginning 1891 he developed a co-ordination theory of molecular structure. Co-ordination bonds were often spoken of as secondary valence. In 1913 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
  • Williamson, Alexander William (1824-1904)
    Born: London (England), 1824 Died: Hindhead (England), 1904
  • Williamson became interested in chemistry through his medical education at Heidelberg (Germany). He studied under Graham and Liebig. He was appointed as professor of chemistry at the University College in London (1849). His discovery of the structure of alcohols and ethers gave him the ability to classify organic compounds into types according to structure. He formulated the concept of dynamic equilibrium of a reaction and demonstrated the catalytic action of sulphuric acid in the synthesis of ether from alcohol.
  • Wöhler, Friedrich (1800-1882)
    Born: Eschersheim (Germany), 1800 Died: Göttingen (Germany), 1882
  • Wöhler obtained a degree as a physician in Heidelberg (1823), but persuaded by Gmelin he oriented himself to chemistry. He was lecturer at the Technical High School in Kassel (1831-1836) and professor of chemistry at the University of Göttingen (1836-1882). In 1828 Wöhler prepared urea from ammonium cyanate, this was a blow against the concept of vitalism. He showed that when benzoic acid is taken up it is excreted in the urine as hippuric acid (start of metabolic studies). Wöhler was also interested in the inorganic chemistry: he noted the similarity of carbon and silicon and was the first to prepare silane (SiH4).
  • Wurtz, Charles Adolphe (1817-1884)
    Born: Wolfisheim (Alsace), 1817 Died: Paris (France), 1884
  • Wurtz embarked on medical studies, but studied chemistry under Liebig (Giessen). In Paris he gained professorial status (1853). He was the first professor of organic chemistry at the Sorbonne (1875). Wurtz was the first important chemist in France to support the structural views of Laurent. In 1855 he discovered the still called “Wurtz-reaction”. He prepared many different substances.

[gdlr_tab title=”20th Century”]

  • Aston, Francis William (1877-1945)
    Born: Harborne (England), 1877 Died: Cambridge (England), 1945
  • Aston studied chemistry at the University of Birmingham. In 1910 he went to Cambridge to work under J. J. Thomson. Aston’s mass spectrograph showed that most stable elements were a mixture of isotopes, differing in mass but not in chemical properties. Using this device he was able to discover 212 of the 287 stable isotopes.
    Aston was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1922.
  • Barton, Derek Harold Richard (1918-1998)
    Born: Gravesend (England), 1918 Died: College Station, Texas (US), 1998
  • Barton obtained his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the Imperial College, London in 1942 and in 1945 joined the faculty. In 1950 he published his work on the relationship of the three-dimensional structure of organic compounds in relation to their chemical properties. This concept of conformational analysis changed dramatically the nature of organic chemistry research. For this breakthrough effort Barton was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1969 (sharing the prize with Odd Hassel). Barton continued his work on the synthesis of natural products and the development of new synthetic reactions.
  • Bosch, Carl (1874-1940)
    Born: Cöln (Germany), 1874 Died: Heidelberg (Germany), 1940
  • After studying chemistry in Berlin and Leipzig in 1899 he entered the chemical company BASF; in 1925 be became president of the trust IG-Farben industries. He solved all the technical problems connected with Fritz Haber´s synthesis of ammonia from air. He also did research on the production of nitric by burning ammonia and on nitrogen fertilisers, on the synthesis of methanol and the hydrogenation of carbon. As one of few technical chemists in 1931 he received to Nobel Prize for chemistry (together with Friedrich Bergius).
  • Brönsted, Johannes Nicolaus (1879-1947)
    Born: Varde, Jutland (Denmark), 22 February 1879 Died: Copenhagen (Denmark), 17 December 1947
  • Brønsted studied in Copenhagen at the Polytechnic Institute and University, obtained his doctorate in 1908 and was appointed the same year to a newly established professorship in chemistry with teaching courses at both universities. The double duties ended in 1930 when he was given a single professorship with the institute of physical chemistry at the University. Brønsted’s main achievement was the development of a valid concept of acids and bases in 1923, often referred to as the Brønsted theory of acids and bases. In Brønsted’s concept, every acid is related to a conjugate base and vice versa. The definition applies to all solvents and not just to water. He also studied activity coefficients introduced by G.N. Lewis and, together with the later Nobel laureate G. Hevesy, the separation of isotopes by molecular distillation. Since 1927 Brønsted became increasingly interested in catalytic effects of acids and bases.
  • Butenandt, Adolf Friedrich Johann (1903-1995)
    Born: Bremerhaven (Germany), 1903 Died: München (Germany), 1995
  • In 1931, shortly after he had isolated the hormone estrone independently of Edward Albert Doisy, Butenandt became lecturer in Göttingen. Later in 1933 he became professor in Danzig (Gdansk) and in 1936 director of the Max-Planck-Institute (KWI) for biochemistry in Berlin (later in Tübingen and München). At first his research concentrated on steroid hormones but after 1941 the active substances of insects and cancer were his main fields of interest. In 1939 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry (together with Leopold Ruzicka).
  • Curie, Marie (1867-1934)
    Born : Warsaw (Poland), 1867 Died : Haute Savoie (France), 1934
  • Marie Curie was an autodidact. In 1891 she went to Paris where she entered the Sorbonne. She married Pierre Curie in 1895, three years later Marie Curie and her husband isolated two new elements from uranium ore; polonium and radium. Marie Curie wrote her doctor’s dissertation in 1903 . Marie and Pierre Curie and Becquerel were jointly awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of radioactive radiations. After the death of her husband in 1906, Marie Curie took over his professorship at the Sorbonne becoming their frist female professor. In 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry for the discovery of two new elements.
  • Debye, Peter Joseph Wilhelm (1884-1966)
    Born: Maastricht (The Netherlands), 1884 Died: Ithaca (USA), 1966
  • Debye studied at the University of Aachen and received a degree in electrical engineering in 1905. However, he turned to physics and received his Ph.D. at the University of München, working under Sommerfeld in 1910. He was professor at the universities of Zürich (1911-1912), Utrecht (1912-1914), Göttingen (1914-1920), Zürich (1920-1927), Leipzig (197-1934), Berlin (1934-1939) and the Cornell University in Ithaca (1940-1952). He did research on the dipole moments of molecules (1912) and he extended the work of the Braggs (1916). Most spectacularly he extended the work of Arrhenius on ionic dissociation in solution and worked out a mathematical theory of electrolytes (the so called Debye-Hückel theory). Debye received the 1936 Nobel Prize for chemistry for his work on dipolar moments.
  • Diels, Otto Paul Hermann (1876-1954)
    Born: Hamburg (Germany), 1876 Died: Kiel (Germany), 1954
  • Under the guidance of Emil Fischer, Diels became professor in Berlin in 1906, in 1916 he moved to Kiel. In 1906 he synthesised C3O2. In the course of the investigation of cholesterol he found the dehydrogenation with Selenium. In 1928 together with Kurt Alder he developed a method of preparing cyclic organic compounds (Diels-Alder reaction) and the pair were jointly awarded the 1950 Nobel Prize for chemistry.
  • Grignard, François Auguste Victor (1871-1935)
    Born: Cherbourg (France), 1871 Died: Lyon Rhône (France), 1935
  • Grignard obtained at the faculty of Lyon a licence in mathematics (1894). In the general chemistry laboratory of the Sciences Faculty in Lyon he was able to prepare the so called organomagnesium halides for the synthesis of new organic compounds. Grignard presented his work as his doctor’s thesis (1901). Grignard reagents were used in all directions. The usefulness of the device was such that in 1910 he received a professorship in chemistry at the University of Nancy and of Lyon in 1919. In 1912 Grignard shared the Nobel Prize with Sabatier.
  • Haber, Fritz (1868-1934)
    Born: Breslau (Germany), 1868 Died: Basel (Switzerland), 1934
  • After studying chemistry and spending some years as an industrial chemist, in 1898 he became professor in Karlsruhe, 1911 director of the Max-Planck-Institute (KWI) for physical and electrochemistry in Berlin. In 1908 he succeeded in synthesising ammonia in a small scale (Haber-Bosch-synthesis) which was the beginning of high pressure chemistry. Later he did research on gas spectra. During World War I he advocated the use of poison-gases as weapons. In 1933 he was forced to leave Germany because of his Jewish descent. In 1918 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
  • Hahn, Otto (1879-1968)
    Born: Frankfurt-am-Main (Germany), 1879 Died: Göttingen (Germany), 1968
  • Hahn studied chemistry in München under Baeyerand obtained his Ph.D. in 1901 at the University of Marburg. He did postdoctoral research with Ramsay (1904) and with Rutherford (1905). In1906 he returned to Germany and became professor in Berlin. In 1928 he became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. From 1906 he studied (with L.Meitner) the radioactive breakdown of thorium. They discovered radioactive isotopes. By 1935 he started to study the bombardment of uranium with neutrons. In 1938 he was the first to realize and to discover the fission of uranium. He received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1944.
  • Hantzsch, Arthur Rudolf (1857-1935)
    Born: Dresden (Germany), 1857 Died Dresden (Germany), 1935
  • Hantzsch studied at the Technical High School in Dresden and obtained a Ph.D. in Würzburg under Wislecenus in 1880. He became professor organic chemistry at the Technical High School in Zürich (1885-1893), at the University of Würzburg (1893-1903) and the University of Leipzig (1903-1927). He studied stereochemistry. He synthesised pyridine (1882), cumaron (1886) and thiazol (1889) and he gave a nomenclature of heterocyclic compounds. From 1907 he studied cryoscopy and UV-spectroscopy.
  • Hassel, Odd (1897-1981)
    Born: Oslo (Norway), 17 May 1897 Died: Oslo (Norway), 11 May 1981
  • After graduating in 1920 from the University of Oslo, Hassel studied in France, Italy and Germany and received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Berlin in 1924. Next year he returned to the University of Oslo where he became, in 1934, the first professor of physical chemistry in Norway. Hassel retired from this post after 30 years of service in 1964. Hassel was one of the early pioneers in the study of molecular structures and laid down the foundations for conformational analysis. Through measurements of electric dipole moments and gas phase electron diffraction he was able to establish the conformations of several alicyclic hydrocarbons, for instance, those of cyclohexane. Hassel received together with D.H.R. Barton the 1969 Nobel prize in chemistry for the development of the concept of conformation and its application in chemistry.
  • Haworth, Walter Norman (1883-1950)
    Born : Chorley (England), 1883 Died : Birmingham (England), 1950
  • Haworth studied chemistry at the University of Manchester, where he was a student of W.H.Perkin, Jr. A scholarly award enabled him to spend a year in Göttingen, where he received his Ph.D. under O. Wallach (1910). After several appointments at universities, he went to the University of Birmingham (1925). Much of his work was done on the structure of carbohydrates. He devised a form of representing the sugar molecules in what is still called “Haworth formulas”. He received in 1937 the Nobel Prize for his work on carbohydrates and vitamin C. He shared the Prize with P. Karrer
  • Hevesy, Gÿorgy Charles (1885-1966)
    Born: Budapest (Hungary), 1885 Died: Freiburg-im-Breisgau (Germany), 1966
  • Hevesy was educated in Hungary and in Germany. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Freiburg (1908). He studied under Haber, Rutherford and Bohr. He became professor in Freiburg (1926), Copenhagen (1934) and Stockholm (1943). In 1923 Hevesy, together with Coster, isolated a new element : hafnium. His most important work was about the use of radioactive isotopes as tracers for the study of metabolic pathways. In 1943 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
  • Heyrovský, Jaroslav (1890-1967)
    Born: Prague (Austria-Hungary, now Czech Republic), 1890 Died: Prague (Czech Republic), 1967
  • Heyrovsky received a BSc. degree from the University College, London (1913) and a Ph.D. from the Charles University in Prague (1918). Professor of physical chemistry at the Charles University of Prague (1924), Heyrovsky’s fame is due to his invention of polarography and his development of the technique into a major method for chemical analysis. For these accomplishment he received the Nobel Prize in 1959.
  • Hinshelwood, Cyril Norman (1897-1967)
    Born: London (England), 1897 Died: London (England), 1967
  • Hinshelwood spent his professional life at Oxford (England), where he obtained a doctorate (1924) and a professorship of chemistry (1937). He served as president of the Chemical Society (1955-1960). He is noted for his extensive contributions to the theoretical and experimental development of chemical kinetics. He elucidated the complex reaction system that contributes to the mechanism of explosive mixtures of hydrogen and oxygen. This work earned him, jointly with N. Semënov the Nobel Prize in 1956.
  • Hodgkin, Dorothy Mary (1910-1994)
    Born: Cairo (Egypt), 1910 Died: Warwickshire (England), 1994
  • Hodgkin studied at the Somerville College, Oxford. She was fascinated by the complex organic structures. As Bernal’s assistant she became a crystallographer and obtained her Ph.D. in Cambridge (1937). She worked on the determination of different important compounds: pepsin, sterols, insulin, penicillin and vitamin B12. Hodgkin’s work was unique not just for its technical brilliance or its medical importance, but because, at every step she used computing machines of various degrees of sophistication. It was for the work on penicillin and vitamin B12 that she won the Nobel Prize in 1964.
  • Ingold, Christopher Kelk (1893-1970)
    Born: London (England), 1893 Died: Edgware (England), 1970
  • Ingold began scientific studies at the Hartley University, Southampton and entered in 1913 the Imperial College. Here he was lecturer in organic chemistry (1921). He was appointed at the Leeds University and in 1930 at the University College, London. He made contributions to the concept of resonance and mesomerism, the prediction of reactions by his schema of substitution and elimination mechanisms and several aspects of physical chemistry (measurements of dipole moments, kinetics, molecular spectroscopy). Ingold created a new discipline: physical organic chemistry. He introduced a fundamental reform of chemical theory and chemical language.
  • Karrer, Paul (1889-1971)
    Born: Moscow (Russia), 1889 Died: Zürich (Switzerland), 1971
  • Karrer studied chemistry in Zürich under Alfred Werner, then he became a collaborator of Paul Ehrlich in Frankfurt. He became professor in Zürich in 1919. He investigated the constitution of carotinoids, flavins, and vitamins E, B2, and A (1930 correct formula of carotine, 1931 of vitamin A). In 1937 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry together with Walter Haworth.
  • Kendrew, John Cowdery (1917-1997)
    Born: Oxford (England), 1917 Died: 1997
  • Kendrew was educated at the Cambridge University where he obtained his Ph.D. (1949). After receiving his doctorate he shifted his attention to myoglobin. This study complemented Perutz’s work on haemoglobin. In 1962 the Nobel Prize was shared by Kendrew and Perutz. By founding in 1959 the Journal of Molecular Biology Kendrew can be seen as one of the pioneers of this new scientific discipline.
  • Natta, Giulio (1903-1979)
    Born: Imperia near Genoa (Italy), 1903 Died: Bergamo (Italy), 1979
  • After studying chemistry in Milano and Freiburg Natta became professor in Pavia, Rome, Turin, and Milano. He investigated catalytic reactions like the synthesis of methanol, of formaldehyde from methanol and of butyraldehyde from propylene, which were used on an industrial scale. He also worked on synthetic rubber and on the polymerisation of olefins with organometallic catalysts developed by Karl Ziegler by which he obtained polypropylenes of highly regular molecular structure. In 1963 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry (together with Karl Ziegler).
  • Nernst, Walther Hermann (1864-1941)
    Born: Briesen near Thorn (Torun) (Germany), 1864 Died: Ober-Zibelle near Bautzen (Germany), 1941
  • In 1883 Nernst became assistant of Wilhelm Ostwald in Leipzig, 1891 professor in Göttingen, 1905 in Berlin. He succeeded in explaining the phenomena connected with galvanic elements (Nernst´s equations 1889) and calculated the moveability of ions (Ionenbeweglichkeit) and the coefficient of diffusion. He was honoured with the Nobel Prize for 1920.

  • Noddack, Ida Eva (1896-1978)
    Born: Lackhausen near Wesel (Germany), 1896 Died: Bad Neuenahr (Germany), 1978
  • After studying chemistry in Berlin she worked in a company and, together with her husband Walter Noddack, at a state institution for the control of physical and chemical measurements (Physiklisch-Technische Reichsanstalt). After she carried out research at the universities of Freiburg and Strasbourg and at an institution for geochemistry in Bamberg. After a long investigation in 1925 the couple succeeded in discovering the element Rhenium by X-ray spectroscopy, by 1929 they had isolated the new element. Further research aimed at determining the frequency and distribution of the elements in the earth’s crust.
  • Pregl, Fritz (1869-1930)
    Born: Laibach (now Slovenia), 1869 Died: Graz (Austria), 1930
  • Pregl studied medicine at the University of Graz, receiving his M.D. in 1894. He developed different microanalytical techniques for the determination of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, halogens, sulphur and functional groups in organic compounds. Pregl was highly skilled in the design and construction of apparatus for microanalytical research and in 1923 he was awarded the Nobel prize for his microchemical feats.
  • Prelog, Vladimir (1906-1998)
    Born: Sarajevo (now Bosnia-Herzegovina), 1906 Died: 1998
  • Prelog was educated in Prague. There he received his diploma in chemical engineering (1928) and his doctorate (1929). After his professorship at the University of Zagreb (1935-1941) he emigrated to Switzerland, were he was appointed professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). Natural products became one of the two main interests of his career, the other being stereochemistry. For this research he was awarded a share of the Nobel Prize for 1975.
  • Reppe, Walter Julius (1892-1969)
    Born: Göringen near Eisenach (Germany), 1892 Died: Heidelberg (Germany), 1969
  • After studying in Jena and München in 1921 Reppe joined the main laboratory of the chemical company BASF. In 1928 he started research on acetylene reactions under high pressure (‘Reppe chemistry’). He studied the vinylisation of alcohols, carboxylic acids and nitrogen compounds and developed the technical means for all theses processes. He also found a process for the catalytic hydration of acetaldehyde.
  • Robinson, Robert (1886-1975)
    Born: Bufford (England), 1886 Died: London (England), 1975
  • Robinson was educated in chemistry at the University of Manchester and under W.H.Perkin Jr. he produced his doctoral thesis in 1909. After a professorship at the University of Sydney (Australia), he returned to England in 1915 and taught at a number of universities. He worked on various aspects of alkaloid chemistry and worked out the structures of morphine (1925) and strychnine (1946). For this work he received the Nobel Prize in 1947. Robinson served as president of the Royal Society from 1945-1950
  • Rutherford, Ernest (1871-1937)
    Born: Brightwater (New Zealand), 1871 Died: London (England), 1937
  • Rutherford studied physics in New Zealand then in 1895 he received a scholarship for the Cambridge University were he worked under J.J.Thomson. He succeeded Thomson in 1919 as professor. Rutherford began research in the exciting new field of radioactivity and discovered gamma radiation. He proved that alpha particles were helium atoms without electrons and he introduced the notion of the proton as a fundamental positively charged particle. In 1911 Rutherford evolved the theory of the atom as having a very tiny nucleus, positively charged, in its centre with negatively charged electrons in outer regions. For these contributions Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908. In 1919 he produced the first man-made “nuclear reaction” changing nitrogen into oxygen.
  • Ruzicka, Leopold Stephen (1887-1976)
    Born: Vukovar (now Croatia), 1887 Died: Mammern (Switzerland), 1976
  • Ruzicka studied chemistry at the Technical University of Karlsruhe (Germany), where he received his doctorate under H. Staudinger (1910). After a professorship in Utrecht (The Netherlands) (1927-1929) he became professor of chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institut for Technology (ETH). His main work started in 1921. It involved: macrocyclic compounds, higher terpenes and steroids. He shared the Nobel Prize with Butenandt in 1939. His “biogenetic isoprene rule”, which was pioneered by Wallach, became, in 1953, the crowning of his life.
  • Sabatier, Paul (1854-1941)
    Born: Carcassonne (France), 1854 Died: Toulouse (France), 1941
  • In 1880 Sabatier completed a doctoral thesis on the thermochemistry of sulphides in Berthelot’s laboratory. In 1892 he started studying catalytic hydrogenations which was of utmost importance to many modern industrial procedures. For this work he received the Nobel Prize in 1912, sharing it with Grignard
  • Semenov, Nikolay Nikolaevich (1896-1986)
    Born: Saratov (Russia), 1896 Died: (Russia), 1986
  • Semenov was educated at the University of St. Petersburg where he graduated in 1917. During the 1920’s he worked on chain reaction mechanisms and on the theory of thermal explosions. For this work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1956 jointly with Hinshelwood.
  • Soddy, Frederick (1877-1956)
    Born: Eastbourne (Great Britain), 1877 Died: Brighton (Great Britain), 1956
  • Soddy studied chemistry in Oxford and graduated in 1898. He worked under Rutherford. Soddy studied the different consecutive radioactive breakdowns beginning with uranium and thorium. In the process of disintegration some forty to fifty different elements were detected. Soddy suggested that different elements were capable of occupying the same place in the periodic table. In 1913 he called these elements isotopes. Furthermore he could explain all radioactive intermediates and that lead was the final stable element. For these results Soddy was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1921. He was professor of chemistry in Oxford from 1919-1936.
  • Sörensen, Soren Peter Lauritz (1868-1939)
    Born: Haurebjerg near Slagelse (Denmark), 9 January 1868 Died: Copenhagen (Denmark), 12 February 1939
  • Sørensen first began to study medicine at the University of Copenhagen but soon moved to chemistry where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1899 working under S.M. Jørgensen on inorganic syntheses. Sørensen became director of the chemical section of Carlsberg Laboratories in 1901 and retired from this post in 1938. While at the Carlsberg Laboratories, Sørensen started to study amino acids, proteins and enzymes. Because hydrogen ion concentration played a key role in enzymatic reactions he devised a simple way of expressing it. By taking a negative logarithm of hydrogen ion concentration a convenient scale can be established; this is the well-known pH value. He also developed buffer solutions to maintain constant pH of solutions (Sørensen buffers).
  • Staudinger, Hermann (1881-1965)
    Born: Worms (Germany), 1881 Died: Freiburg (Germany), 1965
  • After studying in Halle, Darmstadt and München, Staudinger became an assistant in Straßburg (Strasbourg) in 1903 where he discovered the ketenes. In 1907 he became professor in Karlsruhe, 1912 in Zürich and 1926 in Freiburg. From 1912 he studied compounds like cellulose and caoutchouc starting from the hypothesis that those compounds have an extremely high molecular weight. He also showed the relation between viscosity and the chain length of macromolecules. His results were further developed by the plastic industry. Together with his wife Magda Staudinger-Woit he also studied the molecular composition of proteins. Having long been considered an outsider in 1953 he was honoured with the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
  • Stock, Alfred (1876-1946)
    Born: Danzig (Gdansk) (Germany), 1876 Died: Aken near Dessau (Germany), 1946
  • Stock studied under Emil Fischer and Henri Moissan. In 1906 he became professor in Berlin, in 1907 in Breslau (Wroclaw), in 1916 in Berlin (from 1921 director of the Max-Planck-Institute (KWI) for chemistry in Berlin) and in 1926 in Karlsruhe. At first he worked on hydrogen compounds of phosphorous, arsenic, and antimony, then on boron hydrates and silicium hydrates (synthesis of siloxanes). He also introduced new apparatus and methods into inorganic chemistry.
  • Svedberg, Theodor H.E. (1884-1971)
    Born: Fleräng near Valbo (Sweden), 30 August 1884 Died: Kopparberg near Örebro (Sweden), 24 February 1971
  • Svedberg studied at the University of Uppsala and obtained his doctorate in 1907 becoming professor in 1912. With the exception of research periods in Göttingen and Wisconsin, Svedberg remained loyal to his Alma Mater, heading the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the University of Uppsala until retirement in 1949. Svedberg was chiefly interested in the chemistry of colloids and in 1923 developed the ultracentrifuge to settle the tiny colloid particles according to their molecular weights. With an improved version of the centrifuge in 1933-34 gravitational fields of more than half a million g could be achieved. Based on experiments with the ultracentrifuge Svedberg calculated in 1924 the molecular weight of milk casein and next year that of haemoglobin. In 1926 the Nobel prize in chemistry was awarded to Svedberg for his development of the ultracentrifuge.
  • Todd, Alexander Robertus (1907-1997)
    Born: Glasgow (Scotland), 1907 Died 1997
  • Todd graduated from the University of Glasgow (1929) and obtained a doctorate in Frankfurt (Germany) (1931) and a second doctorate (1933) at Oxford (England). In 1947 he synthesised the compounds adenosine diphosphate and triphosphate (ADP and ATP). In the 1950’s he synthesised several coenzymes with nucleotide-like structure. Todd was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1957 for his work on nucleotides.
  • Tswet, Michail Semënovic (1872-1919)
    Born: Asti (Italy), 1872 Died : Voronezh (Russia), 1919
  • Tswett studied at the Geneva University in Switzerland and in 1896 went to St. Petersburg (Russia) to do research. His major work was on plant pigments and he is the founder of chromatographical separation techniques. His report in Russian was forgotten until the method was reintroduced in 1906 by Willstätter
  • Wilkinson, Geoffrey (1921-1998)
    Born: Todmorden (England), 1921 Died: England, 1998
  • Wilkinson received his Ph.D. from the Imperial College (England) in 1946. He was working in the USA on nuclear chemistry (1946-1950). Whilst at the Harvard University he grew interested in ferrocene. Wilkinson returned to England in 1956 and while at the Imperial College he made remarkable contributions to organometallic chemistry. His work led to the development of versatile homogeneous catalysts for the hydrogenation of many olefins. In 1973 Wilkinson shared the Nobel Prize with E. O. Fischer
  • Willstätter, Richard Martin (1872-1942)
    Born: Karlsruhe (Germany), 1872 Died: Muralto (Switzerland), 1942
  • Willstätter studied under Adolf v. Baeyer in München. In 1905 he became professor in Zürich and in 1912 joined the Max-Planck-Institute (KWI) for chemistry in Berlin. He became professor in München in 1916 and then in 1939 he emigrated to Switzerland. Willstätter clarified the constitution of cocaine in 1898 and in 1913 the constitution of chlorophyll. He also investigated anthocyanes. In 1915 he received the Nobel Prize for chemistry. In the 1920s Willstätter studied enzymes.
  • Wittig, Georg Friedrich Karl (1897-1987)
    Born: Berlin (Germany), 1897 Died: Heidelberg (Germany), 1987
  • Wittig studied in Tübingen and Marburg. In 1932 he became professor in Braunschweig, in 1937 in Freiburg, in 1944 in Tübingen, in 1956 in Heidelberg. He did research on the stability and the reactions of organic radicals and on the course of those reactions in unsaturated systems. Starting from lithiumphenyl he synthesised ylides. In connection with those investigations he introduced compounds of boron and phosphorous into organic synthesis. In 1979 together with Herbert C. Brown he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
  • Ziegler, Karl (1898-1973)
    Born: Kassel (Germany), 1898 Died: Mühlheim-Ruhr (Germany), 1973
  • Ziegler obtained a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Marburg (1920). He was professor at different universities and in 1943 he became director of the Max Planck Institute in Mülheim. In 1952 he made the discovery of the unique catalytic system enabling low-pressure polymerisation of ethylene to give linear polyethylene of high molecular weight. For this work he shared the Nobel Prize in 1962 with Giulio Natto
  • Zsigmondy, Richard Adolf (1865-1929)
    Born: Wien (Austria), 1865 Died: Göttingen (Germany), 1929
  • Zsigmondy studied in Wien, München, Berlin, and Graz. He then joined a glassworks in Jena, and in 1907 he became professor in Göttingen. Zigmondy investigated glasses in the context of colloid chemistry. He recognised the resistance of hydrophilic colloids against electrolytical coagulation (protective colloids : Schutzkolloide). In 1903 together with Henry Siedentopf he developed the ultramicroscope. From 1918 he did research on ultrafiltration to determine the size of colloid particles. In 1925 he was award the Nobel Prize in chemistry.