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Analysis and synthesis in nineteenth-century organic chemistry

Jackson, CM; (2009) Analysis and synthesis in nineteenth-century organic chemistry. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

This dissertation examines the development of synthetic organic chemistry in academic laboratories in nineteenth-century Germany. By studying the laboratory practice of chemists including Justus Liebig, August Hofmann and Albert Ladenburg, I show that early synthetical experiments were undertaken with primarily analytical goals, and that construction did not become the dominant purpose of organic synthesis until around 1880. I argue that successful constructive synthesis depended on a new glassware based practice whose unprecedented scale and intrinsic danger drove the construction of purpose-built chemical laboratories from the 1860s onwards. I therefore propose both a revised historiography of nineteenth-century organic chemistry, and a reinterpretation of the institutional revolution in late-nineteenth century physical sciences. I re-examine Liebig's motives for tackling the analysis of alkaloids, using his 1830 laboratory notebook to reconstruct Liebig's experimental approach to this technically demanding task, including his development of a new apparatus for the determination of carbon — the Kaliapparat. I show that incorporating analysis using the Kaliapparat into a reliable, pedagogically stable method involved the labour of the entire Giessen research school. Liebig, his students and assistants produced new chemical knowledge from indeterminate analytical data by a combination of theoretical and practical expertise acquired through disciplined laboratory training, and I argue that a similar philosophy of practice was equally essential in synthetic organic chemistry. Synthesis made chemical identity a focus of chemists' practical concern and I demonstrate that purity, transformation and identity were central to Hofmann's constitutional analysis and Ladenburg's eventual synthesis of the hemlock alkaloid coniine. I explore the origins of what I term the glassware revolution, and its role in resolving the question of chemical identity. Finally, I show how Ladenburg's synthesis depended on glass and glassblowing, and I argue that this new chemical practice both produced and depended on highly organised, specialised laboratory spaces.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: PhD
Title: Analysis and synthesis in nineteenth-century organic chemistry
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10048633
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