Hermann Kolbe

Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe (27 September 1818 – 25 November 1884) was a seminal contributor in the birth of modern organic chemistry. He was a Professor at Marburg and Leipzig. Kolbe coined the term synthesis and contributed to the philosophical demise of vitalism through synthesis of the organic substance acetic acid from carbon disulfide, and also contributed to the development of structural theory. This was done via modifications to the idea of "radicals" and accurate prediction of the existence of secondary and tertiary alcohols, and to the emerging array of organic reactions through his Kolbe electrolysis of carboxylate salts, the Kolbe-Schmitt reaction in the preparation of aspirin and the Kolbe nitrile synthesis. After studies with Wöhler and Bunsen, Kolbe was involved with the early internationalization of chemistry through overseas work in London (with Frankland), and rose through the ranks of his field to edit the Journal für Praktische Chemie. As such, he was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences won the Royal Society of London's Davy Medal in the year of his death. Despite these accomplishments and his training a storied next generation of chemists (including Zaitsev, Curtius, Beckmann, Graebe, Markovnikov, etc.), Kolbe is remembered for editing the Journal for more than a decade, where his rejection of Kekulé's structure of benzene, van't Hoff's theory on the origin of chirality and von Baeyer's reforms of nomenclature were personally critical and linguistically violent. Kolbe died of a heart attack in Leipzig at age 68, six years after the death of his wife, Charlotte. He was survived by four children.


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