Chemistry is a branch of physical science that studies the properties and components of matter. It also encompasses the study of interaction between different types of matter. It has fascinated and intrigued humans since time immemorial. What we know of chemistry today, is due to the major contributions made by the chemists from around the world, who demystified the mystical world of alchemy into chemistry.
Famous Chemists And Their Discoveries
Amedeo Avogadro (1776 - 1856)
Amedeo Avogadro was born in Turin, Italy. He was from a family of established lawyers, and had studied law. However, due to his interest in natural sciences, he privately studied mathematics and physics. He is mainly remembered for his molecular hypothesis, which states, "equal volumes of all gases at same temperature and pressure contains equal number of molecules." It later came to be known as Avogadro's principle. He was also the first one to distinguish between atoms and molecules. As a tribute to his contributions to molecular theory, a number was named after him. It is known as Avogadro's number or constant, and has the value of 6.0221367x1023
Regarded as the 'father of modern chemistry', Antoine Lavoisier established the law of conservation of masses. He disapproved the phlogiston theory, and discovered the chemical nature of combustion. He named oxygen and hydrogen, helped construct the metric system, and reformed the chemical nomenclature.
Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742 - 1786)
Carl Wilhelm Scheele was a Swedish pharmaceutical chemist. He was the first to discover the adsorption of gases by charcoal. He also has the discovery of various chemical elements and compounds, including manganese, chlorine, tartaric acid, glycerin, molybdenum, barium, and lactic acid, to his name. Today, he is mostly remembered for the discovery of 'oxygen' in the air. Publication of his work was delayed by 2 years. That lead John Priestley to be recognized as the discoverer of oxygen, as his works were published earlier. Today, there is no doubt that Scheele has independently discovered Oxygen long before Priestley.
Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was a Russian chemist and a scientist. His most remarkable contribution to science was the creation of periodic table. He predicted that many more elements would be discovered. He even predicted their properties. Mendelevium- element number 101 of the periodic table and the crater on the Moon-Mendeleev, are named after him.
Dorothy Mary Hodgkin (1910 - 1994)
Dorothy Mary Hodgkin, a British chemist and a scientist, is regarded as a pioneer in the field of X-ray crystallography studies to elucidate the structures of biomolecules. Among her many remarkable contributions in this field, was the confirmation of the structure of penicillin. She also won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964, for her work on the structure of Vitamin B12. Five years later, in 1969, she deciphered the structure of insulin.
François Raoult (1830 - 1901)
François Raoult was a French chemist best known for his work on the behavior of solutions, particularly their physical properties. He formulated the Raoult's law, which relates the vapor pressure of a solution to the number of molecules of solute dissolved in it.
Frederick Sanger (1918 - 2013)
Frederick Sanger was a British biochemist, who received the Nobel prize for chemistry, twice. He first received it in 1958, for his work on the structure of proteins, specifically that of insulin. In 1980, he and Walter Gilbert shared the Nobel prize for their studies concerning the determination of base sequences in nucleic acids.
Frederick Soddy (1877 - 1956)
Frederick Soddy was a British radiochemist. In 1912, he proposed the theory of isotopes stating the presence of chemically indistinguishable elements, but with different atomic masses. His theory was considered controversial, until the discovery of neutron in 1932 by James Chadwick. In collaboration with Ernst Rutherford, he explained radioactivity. He received Nobel prize for chemistry in 1921.
Fritz Haber (1868 - 1934)
Fritz Haber was a German chemist best known for his work on synthesizing ammonia, important for fertilizers and explosives. He had been surrounded by controversies for his work on chlorine and other poisonous gases, and their use during World War I. He has also been called the father of chemical warfare. He was awarded by Nobel prize in 1918 for his work on ammonia.
Germain Hess (1802 - 1850)
Germain Hess was a Swiss born Russian chemist and a doctor, best known for his law of Thermodynamics. This law, also known as the law of constant heat summation, states that, in a series of chemical reactions, the total energy gained or lost depends only on the initial and final states, regardless of the number or path of the steps. This law is also known as Hess's law.
Gilbert Lewis (1875 - 1946)
Gilbert Lewis was an American physical chemist. He is known for a number of works in the field of chemistry. Discovery of covalent bond, purification of heavy water, theory of Lewis acids and bases, and reformulation of chemical thermodynamics in a chemically rigorous manner, are some of his most important works. Although, he was never awarded a Nobel prize, he was nominated for it 35 times.
Harold Clayton Urey (1893 - 1981)
Harold Clayton Urey was an American chemist and a physicist. He is best known for his discovery of deuterium. He received the Nobel prize in the year 1934, for his pioneering work on isotopes. He played a very important role in the development of atom bomb. Another important work of Urey was the development of organic life from non-living matter. The experiment is known as Miller-Urey experiment.
Henry Louis Le Chatelier (1850 - 1936)
Henry Louis Le Chatelier was a French chemist, best known for his principle of chemical equilibrium, known as the Le Chatelier's principle. As per the principle, if a chemical system at equilibrium, experiences a change in concentration, temperature, or total pressure, the equilibrium will shift, in order to minimize that change. This principle is used by chemists to determine the effect that changing conditions have on a system in chemical equilibrium.
Henri Moissan (1852 - 1907)
Henri Moissan was a French chemist, who is best known for his work of isolating fluorine from its compounds. He also received the Nobel prize for this work in 1906.
Henry Cavendish (1731 - 1810)
Henry Cavendish was a British natural philosopher, scientist, and a theoretical chemist. He is best known for the discovery of hydrogen. He also described the density of water, and determined the density of earth for the first time. He studied the properties of different gases and the composition of atmospheric air. He was distinguished for the great accuracy and precision of his work.
Humphry Davy was an English inventor and chemist. He was the first to isolate elements, like, sodium, barium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and boron. Chlorine was given its current name by Humphry Davy. He was a pioneer in the field of electrolysis using the voltaic cells. He invented the first electric light. He later developed the Davy Lamp, which allowed the miners to work in the presence of flammable gases.
Irving Langmuir (1881 - 1957)
Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. He received the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1932 for his work on surface chemistry. He is known for his work on the concentric theory of atomic structure. He is also credited for various other inventions, like, the high vacuum electron tube, development of the tungsten bulb, and development of a hydrogen blow torch for welding at high temperature.
Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff (1852 - 1911)
The first person to be awarded Nobel prize in chemistry in 1901, Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff was a Dutch scientist and chemist. He was a pioneer in the field of stereochemistry, dealing with the three-dimensional structure of a molecule. His other remarkable accomplishments include, his work on carbon bonds, osmotic pressure, chemical kinetics, and chemical equilibrium. He received the Nobel prize for his work on solutions, wherein he stated that, they behave as per the law of gases in very diluted conditions.
Jacques Charles was a French scientist, chemist, physicist, balloonist, and an inventor. He had experimented about the nature of expansion of gases when heated, but the result had remained unpublished for several years. Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac came to the same conclusion years later, and he credited the result to Charles. Hence, the law is often known as Charles' law. Charles and the Robert brothers were the first, among the inventors, to launch an unmanned Hydrogen-filled balloon in August 1783. In December 1783, Charles, along with Nicolas-Louis Robert co-piloted a manned balloon, which rose to a height of 1800 meters. The hydrogen-filled balloon is named as Charliere after him.
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (1778 - 1850)
Known for his law on gases―the Gay-Lussac law, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac was a French chemist and physicist. The Gay-Lussac law states that, if the mass and pressure of a gas is held constant, then the gas volume increases linearly as the temperature rises. In 1804, along with Jean-Baptiste Biot, he made several ascents of over 7000 meters in hot air balloon to draw samples of the Earth's atmosphere and analyze them. He was also the co-discoverer of Boron.
John Dalton was an English physicist, chemist, and a meteorologist. Today, he is best known for his pioneering work on modern atomic theory. He proposed that, matter is made up of fundamental units called atoms. These units cannot be created or destroyed. He also explained the Dalton law of partial pressure.
Jöns Jacob Berzelius was a Swedish chemist, best known for the technique of chemical formulae notations. He also proposed the law of constant proportions, which proved that inorganic substances are made of elements that are in constant proportion by weight. Using his experimental results, he deduced the atomic weights of nearly all the elements, known at that time, to a great accuracy. He discovered Silicon, Thorium, Cerium, and Selenium. Along with Antonio Lavoisier, Robert Boyle, and John Dalton, he is known as the father of modern chemistry. 20th August is celebrated as Berzelius day in Sweden in his honor.
Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839 - 1903)
Josiah Willard Gibbs was an American theoretical physicist and chemist. He is best known for his work on chemical thermodynamics theory that helped convert physical chemistry from an empirical science to a deductive science, to a large extent.
Joseph Priestley, best known as the co-discoverer of oxygen, was an English philosopher, theologian, chemist, inventor, and a political theorist. He also invented soda water, discovered hydrochloric acid, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. In 1770, he discovered the ability of Indian gum to erase pencil lead marks and he called them rubber. These are the first known erasers.
Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted (1879 - 1947)
Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted was a Danish physical chemist, best known for his theory of acids and bases similar to that of Thomas Martin Lowry of England. Though they had independently deduced the theory, it is now commonly known as Brønsted-Lowry theory. It defines acids, as proton donates to bases in an acid/base reaction. Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted was also regarded as a master on the catalytic properties and strengths of acids and bases.
Leo Baekeland (1863 - 1944)
Leo Baekeland was a Belgian-born American inventor and chemist. He invented the Velox photographic paper in 1893, however, is best known for the invention of Bakelite, in 1907. Bakelite is a versatile, non-inflammable and inexpensive plastic that marked the beginning of the 'age of plastic'.
Linus Pauling (1901 - 1994)
Linus Pauling was an American chemist, biochemist, and a peace activist. He is considered as one of the most influential scientists of all times. He is the only person to have won two unshared Nobel prizes. He received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954, for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances. He received another one for Peace in 1962.
Marie Curie, also known as Madame Curie, was a Polish born chemist and physicist, who later acquired French citizenship. She is renowned for her pioneering research in the field of radioactivity. Marie Curie discovered the radioactive elements called radium and polonium. She is also regarded for her theory of radioactivity and techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes. She is the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize. She received the coveted award twice, for Physics in 1903 and for Chemistry in 1911.
Paul John Flory (1910 - 1985)
Paul John Flory was an American chemist and activist. He was awarded the Nobel prize in 1974 for his fundamental achievements, both theoretical and experimental, in the physical chemistry of macromolecules.
Peter Debye (1884 - 1966)
Peter Debye was a Dutch-American physicist and chemist. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 1936, for his contribution in the field of physical chemistry. The application of dipole moment to the charge distribution in asymmetric molecules was one of his early significant works. Other important works include, the Debye model, Debye temperature, and Debye relaxation.
Robert Boyle was an Irish philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor of the 17th century. He is regarded as the founder of modern chemistry. He is best known for Boyle's law, which states that in a closed system, at constant temperature, the absolute volume and pressure of a gas, are inversely proportional.
Robert Burns Woodward (1917 - 1979)
Robert Burns Woodward was an American organic chemist and is best regarded for his contributions in the synthesis of complex natural products. His work is very important for the determination of their molecular structures. He was awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry in the year 1965.
Stanislao Cannizzaro (1826 - 1910)
Stanislao Cannizzaro was an Italian chemist best known for the Cannizzaro reaction that involves the base-induced disproportionation of an aldehyde lacking a hydrogen atom in alpha position. He is also regarded for his work on the use of atomic weight in chemical formulae and calculations.
Svante Arrhenius was Swedish scientist. He was a physicist and a chemist. He was awarded the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1903. He proposed the Arrhenius equation, which signifies the temperature dependence of reaction rates. He was also one of the first chemists who proposed that, in a solution the salt dissociates into ions even in the absence of an electric current.
Theodore Richards (1868 - 1928)
Theodore Richards was the first American scientist to be awarded the Nobel prize for Chemistry. He received the award in 1914 for his extensive work of calculating the exact atomic weight of chemical elements. He was the first to confirm the existence of isotopes by chemical analysis. Although, the findings were significant at that time, today they are superseded by more accurate results.
Thomas Graham was a Scottish chemist who is known for his pioneering work on dialysis and diffusion of gases. Graham's law of diffusion and effusion of gases states that the rate of diffusion of gases is inversely proportional to the square root of its molar mass. He devised dialysis, a process for separating colloids from crystalloids. It forms the basis of the present day dialysis machine used for patients suffering from kidney failure.
Thomas Martin Lowry (1874 - 1936)
Thomas Martin Lowry was an English physical chemist best known for the Brønsted-Lowry acid-base theory, which, he developed independently from Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted.
Wilhelm Ostwald (1853 - 1932)
Wilhelm Ostwald was a Russian-German chemist who received the Nobel prize in 1909 for his work on chemical equilibria, catalysis, and reaction velocities. His is credit for the process of producing nitric acid by oxidizing ammonia. He also formulated the law of dilution, which is commonly known as Ostwald's Dilution Law.
William Perkin (1838 - 1907)
William Perkin was an English chemist, best known for the discovery of the first aniline dye, mauveine. Perkin proved his genius at the precocious age of 18. Perkin actively continued his research in the field of organic chemistry, and discovered many other synthetic dyes including Britannia's Violet and Perkin's Green.
These were just a few of the best known names in chemistry. There are many others who have made a noteworthy contribution to this subject. We definitely owe a note of gratitude to all these famous scientists, who have played a vital role in the progress and development of mankind.