Adolf von Baeyer Biography (1835-1917)


Adolf von Baeyer was born in 1835 in Berlin. He studied at the Friedrich-Wilhelms Gymnasium. He attended the University of Berlin where he studied physicsand mathematics. He studied physical chemistry at Heidelberg under Robert Bunsen . Unsatisfied with the field of study, he transferred to the private laboratory of organic chemist August von Stradonitz Kekule, also in Heidelberg.While working with Kekule, Baeyer compiled enough data to support his thesison organic arsenic compounds; based on that thesis he received his doctoral degree in 1858. Later that same year, Kekule move the lab activities to Ghent;Baeyer followed. En route to the new site, Baeyer met Adolf Schlieper, who had once worked on a uric acid research team and gave Baeyer one of his remaining samples of the substance. Through further investigation, Baeyer discovered barbituric acid , the basic compound of the barbiturate family. While in Ghent he earned the basic requisites to qualify as university instructor and lecturer in the field. Returning to Berlin two years later, he began intensiveresearch in uncovering the parent compound from which indigo is derived. In 1841 Auguste Laurent introduced oxygen into the indigo molecule, which broke it into two equal molecules--this resultant compound he called isatin. In 1870, Baeyer further broke down the substance (in an effort to discover the parent compound) by distilling the isatin over hot zinc dust. This action removedboth oxygen atoms leaving the substance he called indole--the parent compoundof indigo. Eventually he developed a new technique to create isatin from phenylacetic acid. Thus, Baeyer had succeeded in producing indigo from common chemicals. The distillation process had a great impact on the dye industry andbecame widely used to produce dyes from other materials, such as madder (usedto dye British army and fox-hunting coats). Although Baeyer did not participate in the fine tuning of the industrial production of indigo, by 1897 synthetic indigo was readily available to the open market. In 1875 he moved to Munich to accept a professorship. It was at Munich that he began work with acetylene and polyacetylene compounds. Eventually, this research led to his study of cyclic compounds. Cyclic (ring) compounds are compounds of carbon atoms which are arranged as rings. Baeyer theorized the reason that naturally occurring ring compounds have five and six carbon atoms was due to the bond angles. According to Baeyer's strain theory, the more a bond angle deviates from a tetrahedral angle the more unstable the bond is. The smaller the angle (less three or four member rings) the more strain was put on the bond; larger angles (more than six member rings) would also result in more strain. He also made the presupposition that all the rings were planar. His theory came under fire in 1890 and was disproved in 1969. Baeyer also conducted research in the areasof polyacetylenes, oxonium salts, and rosaniline dyes. In 1905, he was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry. He died in 1917

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