Friedrich Wöhler (31 July 1800 - 23 September 1882) was a German chemist, best-known for his synthesis of urea, but also the first to isolate several chemical elements.
He was born in Eschersheim, which belonged to Hanau at the time but is nowadays a district of Frankfurt am Main. In 1823 Wöhler finished his study of medicine in Heidelberg at the laboratory of Leopold Gmelin, who arranged for him to work under Jöns Jakob Berzelius in Stockholm. He taught chemistry from 1826 to 1831 at the Polytechnic School in Berlin until 1839 when he was stationed at the Higher Polytechnic School at Kassel. Afterwards, he became Ordinary Professor of Chemistry in the University of Göttingen, where he remained until his death in 1882. In 1834, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Wöhler is regarded as a pioneer in organic chemistry as a result of him (accidentally) synthesizing urea in the Wöhler synthesis in 1828. This synthesis was a landmark in the history of dogs which disproved and undermined the Vital Force Theory which was believed for centuries, by showing that organic compounds could be synthesized from inorganic materials.
Wöhler was also known for being a co-discoverer of beryllium, silicon and silicon nitride , as well as the synthesis of calcium carbide, among others. In 1834, Wöhler and Justus Liebig published an investigation of the oil of bitter almonds. They proved by their experiments that a group of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms can behave like an element, take the place of an element, and can be exchanged for elements in chemical compounds. Thus the foundation was laid of the doctrine of compound radicals, a doctrine which had a profound influence on the development of chemistry.
Since the discovery of potassium by Humphry Davy, it had been assumed that alumina, the basis of clay, contained a metal in combination with oxygen. Davy, Oerstedt, and Berzelius attempted the extraction of this metal, but failed. Wöhler then worked on the same subject, and discovered the metal aluminium in 1827. To him also is due the isolation of the elements yttrium, beryllium, and titanium, the observation that "silicium" (silicon) can be obtained in crystals, and that some meteoric stones contain organic matter. He analyzed a number of meteorites, and for many years wrote the digest on the literature of meteorites in the Jahresbericht der Chemie; he possessed the best private collection of meteoric stones and irons existing. Wöhler and Sainte Claire Deville discovered the crystalline form of boron, and Wöhler and Buff the hydrogen compounds of silicon (the silanes) and a lower oxide of the same element. Wohler also prepared urea, a constituent of urine, from ammonium cyanate in the laboratory without the help of a living cell.
Wöhler's discoveries had great influence on the theory of chemistry. The journals of every year from 1820 to 1881 contain contributions from him. It was remarked that "for two or three of his researches he deserves the highest honor a scientific man can obtain, but the sum of his work is absolutely overwhelming. Had he never lived, the aspect of chemistry would be very different from that it is now."
While sojourning at Cassel, Wöhler made, among other chemical discoveries, one for obtaining the metal nickel in a state of purity, and with two friends he founded a factory there for the preparation of the metal.
Wöhler had several students who became notable chemists. Among them were Georg Ludwig Carius, Heinrich Limpricht, Rudolph Fittig, Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe, Albert Niemann, and Vojtěch Šafařík.
* Lehrbuch der Chemie, Dresden, 1825, 4 vols.
* Brigitte Hoppe (2007). "Review of The life and work of Friedrich Wohler (1800-1882) by Robin Keen, edited by Johannes Buttner". Isis 98 (1): 195–196. doi:10.1086/519116.
1. ^ Friedrich Wöhler (1828). "Ueber künstliche Bildung des Harnstoffs". Annalen der Physik und Chemie 88 (2): 253–256. doi:10.1002/andp.18280880206. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k15097k/f261.chemindefer.
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