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Friedrich Wöhler

Friedrich Wöhler

Prof Friedrich Wöhler (German: [ˈvøːlɐ]) FRS(For) HFRSE (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, most notably titanium.

Friedrich Wöhler
Born(1800-07-31)31 July 1800
Eschersheim, Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, Holy Roman Empire
Died23 September 1882(1882-09-23)(aged 82)
Known forWöhler synthesis of urea
AwardsCopley Medal (1872)
Scientific career
FieldsOrganic chemistry
InstitutionsPolytechnic School in Berlin
Polytechnic School at Kassel
University of Göttingen
Doctoral advisorLeopold Gmelin
Jöns Jakob Berzelius
Doctoral studentsHeinrich Limpricht
Rudolph Fittig
Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe
Georg Ludwig Carius
Albert Niemann
Vojtěch Šafařík
Carl Schmidt
Theodor Zincke
Other notable studentsAugustus Voelcker[1]
Wilhelm Kühne


He was born in Eschersheim, which then belonged to Hanau, but is now a district of Frankfurt am Main. He was educated at the Frankfurt Gymnasium. His initial higher studies were at Marburg University in 1820.

In 1823 Wöhler finished his study of Medicine at Heidelberg University, having been taught in the laboratory of Leopold Gmelin, who then arranged for him to work under Jöns Jakob Berzelius in Stockholm, Sweden.

From 1826 to 1831 Wohler taught chemistry at the Polytechnic School in Berlin. In 1839 he was stationed at the 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.

Contributions to chemistry

Wöhler is regarded as a pioneer in organic chemistry as a result of his (accidentally) synthesizing urea from ammonium cyanate in the Wöhler synthesis in 1828.[2] In a letter to Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius the same year, he wrote, 'In a manner of speaking, I can no longer hold my chemical water. I must tell you that I can make urea without the use of kidneys of any animal, be it man or dog.'[3]

This discovery has become celebrated as a refutation of vitalism, the hypothesis that living things are alive because of some special "vital force". However, contemporary accounts do not support that notion. This Wöhler Myth, as historian of science Peter J. Ramberg called it, originated from a popular history of chemistry published in 1931, which, "ignoring all pretense of historical accuracy, turned Wöhler into a crusader who made attempt after attempt to synthesize a natural product that would refute vitalism and lift the veil of ignorance, until 'one afternoon the miracle happened'".[4] Nevertheless, it was the beginning of the end of one popular vitalist hypothesis, that of Jöns Jakob Berzelius, that "organic" compounds could be made only by living things.

Major works, discoveries and research

Wöhler was also known for being a co-discoverer of beryllium, silicon and silicon nitride,[5] 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 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.

Wöhler was the first to isolate the elements yttrium, beryllium, and titanium, and to observe that "silicium" (silicon) can be obtained in crystals, and that some meteoric stones contain organic matter. He analyzed meteorites, and for many years wrote the digest on the literature of meteorites in the Jahresberichte über die Fortschritte 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 Heinrich Buff discovered silane in 1856. Wöhler also prepared urea, a constituent of urine, from ammonium cyanate in the laboratory without the help of a living cell.

Final days and legacy

Wöhler's discoveries had great influence on the theory of chemistry. The journals of every year from 1820 to 1881 contain contributions from him. In the Scientific American supplement for 1882, 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".[6]

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.


He married twice: firstly in 1830 to Franziska Wohler (d.1832), and secondly in 1834 to Julie Pfeiffer.

Further works

Further works from Wöhler:

  • Lehrbuch der Chemie, Dresden, 1825, 4 vols.

  • Grundriss der Anorganischen Chemie, Berlin, 1830

  • Grundriss der Chemie, Berlin, 1837–1858 Vol.1&2 Digital edition [21] by the University and State Library Düsseldorf

  • Grundriss der Organischen Chemie, Berlin, 1840

  • Praktische Übungen in der Chemischen Analyse, Berlin, 1854

See also

  • Justus von Liebig

  • Silver cyanate

  • Silver fulminate

  • Isomerism

  • History of aluminium

  • Hilaire Marin Rouelle

  • Stanley Miller


Citation Linken.wikisource.orgGoddard, Nicholas (2004). "Voelcker, (John Christopher) Augustus (1822–1884)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/28345.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.) The first edition of this text is available at Wikisource: "Voelcker, John Christopher Augustus" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linkwww.chemteam.infoWöhler, Friedrich (1828). "Ueber künstliche Bildung des Harnstoffs". Annalen der Physik und Chemie. 88 (2): 253–256. Bibcode:1828AnP....88..253W. doi:10.1002/andp.18280880206. — Available in English at: "Chem Team".
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgChemie heute, Schroedel Verlag, Klasse 9/10. Chapter 3: Chemie der Kohlenwasserstoffe. Excursus pg. 64, ISBN 978-3-507-86192-3. Translated from original: „Ich kann, so zu sagen, mein chemisches Wasser nicht halten und muss ihnen sagen, daß ich Harnstoff machen kann, ohne dazu Nieren oder überhaupt ein Thier, sey es Mensch oder Hund, nöthig zu haben.“
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org"Ramberg (2000), following Rocke (1993), pp. 239–241, traced back the origin to H. Kopp’s Geschichte der Chemie, Vol. 1 (1843), p. 442; vol. 4 (1847), p. 244. The myth was unmasked by McKie in 1944, followed by a series of papers quoted by Ramberg" (Schummer, Joachim (2003). "The notion of nature in chemistry" (PDF). Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. 34: 705–736. doi:10.1016/s0039-3681(03)00050-5., p. 718).
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgDeville, H.; Wohler, F. (1857). "Erstmalige Erwähnung von Si3N4". Liebigs Ann. Chem. 104: 256.
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linkwww.fullbooks.comScientific American Supplement No. 362, 9 Dec 1882. Fullbooks.com. Retrieved on 28 May 2014.
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linknbn-resolving.deVol.1&2 Digital edition
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Link//doi.org/10.1179%2F00026980079098740110.1179/000269800790987401
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Link//doi.org/10.1002%2Fnadc.20096615910.1002/nadc.200966159
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Citation Link//doi.org/10.1086%2F51911610.1086/519116
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Citation Link//doi.org/10.1179%2F00026986879151975710.1179/000269868791519757
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Citation Link//doi.org/10.1007%2Fs00897010444a10.1007/s00897010444a
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Citation Linkui.adsabs.harvard.edu1944Natur.153..608M
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Link//doi.org/10.1038%2F153608a010.1038/153608a0
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Citation Link//doi.org/10.1179%2F00026980079098740110.1179/000269800790987401
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linken.wikisource.org"Wöhler, Friedrich"
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linken.wikisource.org"Wöhler, Friedrich"
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linken.wikisource.org"Wöhler, Friedrich"
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linken.wikisource.org"Wöhler, Friedrich"
Sep 25, 2019, 9:37 PM
Citation Linkarchive.orgWorks by or about Friedrich Wöhler
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