Friedrich Wöhler Biography and Discoveries

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Who is Friedrich Wöhler? What did Friedrich Wöhler do? Information on the chemist Friedrich Wöhler biography, life story, works and discoveries.

Friedrich WöhlerFriedrich Wöhler; German chemist: b. Escherscheim, Germany, July 31, 1800; d. Göttingen, Sept. 23, 1882. He began to study medicine in 1820 at Marburg and transferred in 1821 to Heidelberg, where under the influence of Leopold Gmelin he turned his attention to chemistry. After receiving his doctor’s degree in medicine, surgery, and obstetrics in 1823, he studied for a year in Stockholm with Jöns Jakob Berzelius, with whom he maintained a long correspondence that was published posthumously. Wöhler taught at technical schools in Berlin and Kassel and in 1836 became professor of chemistry on the medical faculty of the University of Göttingen, where he remained until his death, winning worldwide esteem as an educator. A monument erected in his honor at Göttingen memorializes the service to chemistry of a man who never received formal education in the science.

Wöhler has been credited with beginning the science of organic chemistry. His synthesis of urea from ammonium cyanate in 1828 refuted the prevailing theory that a “vital force” is necessary for the formation of organic compounds. He was among the first to study isomerism. With Justus von Liebig, he investigated oil of bitter almonds and discovered that the benzoyl radical remained the same in each of a series of compounds of the same composition. His other work in organic chemistry included the discovery of amygdalin in 1837 and of hydroquinone in 1848. His work in inorganic chemistry included studies of most known elements. Wöhler was the first to isolate beryllium, which he named, in 1828, and he isolated pure metallic aluminum for the first time in 1845, after having isolated an impure aluminum powder in 1827. In 1862 he prepared calcium carbide. He devised a process for the large-scale manufacture of nickel, and his work on silicons was vital to the development of silicon chemistry. Wöhler was the author of Grundriss der anorganischen Chemie (1831), Grundriss der organischen Chemie (1840), and more than 300 scientific papers.

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