The crazy kid who demolished the house grew up to be the father of organic chemistry


Justus von liebig
Justus von liebig

Liebig is the son of a German drug, fuel, and chemical reagent marketer. Since he was a child, he regarded his home as his chemical paradise, where there are many chemical materials, medicines, and reagents for him to play with. He likes to do small experiments with his hands and even secretly went to the attic to do experiments on mercury sulfate. I didn't want to get into trouble at that time. The strong explosion shook the whole building and damaged a corner of the roof.


Not only was he not blamed, but his parents praised him for being courageous and pursuing. This praise unearthed his potential to dare to create. In order to encourage his hobbies, his father simply transformed the back kitchen of the store into a laboratory for him to conduct experiments. Li Bixi developed a deep love for chemistry through immersion and hands-on activities and has since entered the life of chemistry.


In 1822, after receiving his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Erlangen in Germany, Liebig came to Paris to become a research assistant to the famous chemist Guy Lussac. Guy Lussac's experimental methods and skills, and rigorous scientific spirit had an important influence on Liebig. As early as his youth, he was deeply touched by the formalization and formulaicity of German school education and was determined to reform German chemistry education by himself. However, things did not go as smoothly as he had imagined.


Liebig left Paris for Darmstadt in April 1824 at the age of 21. He came to Giessen University with a letter of recommendation from Hambold. It was an outdated, poorly funded school with few chemistry students, unable to provide adequate scholarships. Although it is called a university, not only does it not have a classroom dedicated to teaching chemistry, but it does not even have a dedicated chemistry laboratory. What is even more troubling is that the interpersonal relationship is complicated and the teaching order is chaotic. Professor William Gimmerman, who teaches general chemistry, also teaches philosophy, while another chemistry teacher also teaches medicine and pharmacy. Gimmermann rejected Liebig, fearing that he would compete for his lecture fees (according to the German education system at that time, teachers' salaries were drawn from the fees paid by students attending lectures), and he even did not allow Liebig to use the experimental table and experimental equipment.


Liebig originally wanted to learn from the experience of France and inherit the academic spirit of his mentor Guy Lussac to work hard in Giessen. The scene in front of him made him feel that the situation was complicated. The motivation of human behavior is very important. Good motivation is where the noble purpose lies, and it will be stably hidden in people's efforts, endurance, and persistence. Liebig did not want to change his original intention easily. He believed that although chemistry is not a speculative science like philosophy, a real chemist should first be able to think, and must also have the skills of experimental operation. Chemical knowledge should be obtained through thinking in experiments. Acquisition, and rise from empirical thinking to theory, so thinking and experimenting is essential to chemistry.

Faced with the current situation in Giessen, Liebig is determined to reform the traditional chemistry education system and teaching methods and proposes a bold plan, the goal of which is to create a modern chemistry research institute and at least a modern chemistry laboratory. Open to all students, it is stipulated that the entire chemistry class is taught in the laboratory. This proposal was too advanced in Germany at the time, so it was extremely challenging. In the end, it was rejected by the school board of directors, thinking that it was "deviant" and deviated from the general direction of German education.


Under many unfavorable circumstances, Liebig decided to personally improve the existing chemistry teaching bit by bit. He boarded and lived in the school, and relying on simple equipment, he taught a series of lively chemistry classes, which won the welcome of the students and the unanimous approval of the school board.


On December 7, 1825, he was formally appointed professor of chemistry, with improved salary and experimental funding. In this year, Liebig found an abandoned military camp on the edge of the small town of Giessen. After some meditation, he successfully borrowed a corner of it and built a chemical laboratory there. The main laboratory is less than 40 square meters, with a storage room, an oven, a laboratory table, and a small classroom next to it. Although the scale is small and the equipment is simple, it has finally taken the first step of reform. Liebig took chemistry classes here and led eight or nine students to conduct chemical research, while he, his wife, and their children lived in a small room upstairs. In this off-campus laboratory, Liebig taught and researched for 10 years, and many achievements were completed here.


Liebig was the first in Germany to combine traditional chemistry education with experimentation and at the same time chemical research with technological development, a program unheard of in Germany.


Beginning in 1925, he insisted on implementing it for nearly 30 years. In order to promote the reform of the chemistry teaching system, Liebig wrote a brand-new teaching syllabus, stipulating that students must undergo experimental training and learn the qualitative and quantitative analysis of compounds from experiments. Liebig's teaching syllabus stipulates that the following skills must be learned, such as the purification method of natural substances, the identification method of new compounds, inorganic synthesis and organic synthesis, etc. He believes that only by mastering this series of knowledge and skills in experiments can we talk about success Independent research dissertations, and earning a degree. This teaching system, which is gradually upgraded to independent research after systematic training in experiments, not only cultivated a group of real chemists but also laid the foundation for modern chemistry education.


Under his vigorous promotion, Giessen's chemistry class and chemical research have achieved a large number of results. His students have become the backbone of the development of a new generation of chemical technology not only in Germany, Europe but also in the United States.

At this time, Liebig's plan to establish a chemical research institute also came into being, and it was finally officially approved in 1833. In 1839, the first government funding was obtained, and the Liebig Chemical Research Institute of Giessen University was officially established. This is not only a special classroom for Liebig to teach but also a place for students to do experiments. It is also a base for chemical research, a workshop for manufacturing chemical products, and the editorial offices of chemical and medical magazines.


After the completion of the Liebig Institute of Chemistry, its superiority immediately appeared. Not only the series of chemistry courses and series of experiments were standardized, but also the organic combination of chemistry teaching and practical activities such as theoretical research, pharmacology, agriculture, and practice. Chemistry teaching broadens the topics of theoretical research. Liebig's reform of the chemistry education system and methods has brought a series of leading chemistry research and excellent chemistry education results, which is refreshing. Giessen immediately became the center of chemistry teaching and research in Germany and even in Europe. Its rise caused a sensation, and chemists from all over Germany, Europe, and even the world flocked here. For a time, students from all over the world flocked to Giessen University.


Under the new education and research system, under his personal guidance, a group of chemists emerged, including Hoffman, the world-renowned founder of fuel chemistry and the fuel industry, and Wu Ci, who discovered the preparation of hydrocarbons from halogenated alkanes and metal sodium and proposed benzene The ring structure theory, Kekule, who laid a solid foundation for the theory of organic structure and was known as the "architect" of chemistry, and Voskresensky, who was hailed as the father of Russian chemistry by Mendeleev, etc.


These students returned to their homeland, followed Giessen's practice, and established a teaching laboratory for students so that Giessen's teaching model of chemistry has been actively promoted all over the world. The very fresh and energetic Giessen-Liebig School was born, and they became a powerful force in the world's chemical research.


On the eve of Liebig leaving Giessen for Munich in 1852, there were already 700 chemistry students from all over Germany, and chemistry education and research showed a lot of vitality. After 28 years of hard work, Liebig has not only changed the face of chemistry education here but even made Giessen a center of chemistry education in the world. He is recognized by the world as the greatest chemistry teacher and the leader of chemistry education reform. He is also a chemist with great achievements.


While teaching chemistry at the university level, Liebig collaborated with Weller to discover for the first time allotropes of different elements with the same molecular formula. When Liebig prepared chloroform and chloral, he discovered hippuric acid. Starting from phytochemistry, he created agricultural chemistry in connection with the growth of crops.

He believed that green plants underpin all life, absorbing nutrients from the soil and air, carbon from carbon dioxide in the air, and nitrogen from ammonia. He also believes that ammonia is absorbed by plants because it dissolves in rainwater, so plants have a rich and stable source of nutrients.


He analyzed hundreds of samples of plant ashes and found that they contained sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus, which are mineral components in plants. He believed that these components must come from the soil, and the cultivated land must have a lot of minerals. Consumption, which requires fallow to allow them to self-resuscitate. Liebig also suggested that mineral fertilizers should be applied to supplement before re-cultivation. Liebig sorted out and collected some research results. On September 1, 1840, he published them in the journal Advances in Natural Science under the title Application of Organic Chemistry in Agriculture and Physiology.


After 1840, Liebig became interested in "the vitality of life" and wanted to study what factors support life and how food is converted into energy from a chemical point of view. His research direction turned to the chemical study of organic living tissues. From the chemical analysis of blood, urine, and bile, to the study of animal body metabolism, body heat, energy sources and supplements for muscle movement, the effects of oxygen, food and carbohydrates, fat consumption, etc. In April 1842, he published his paper "Chemistry of Animals", which further studied the application of organic chemistry to physiology and pathology. Although limited by the conditions at the time, some understandings were somewhat erroneous. For example, in the understanding of the fermentation process, Liebig had a dispute with Pasteur for a long time. However, in these studies, Liebig improved several methods of organic chemistry and determined the Chemical formulas of a large number of compounds. He also discovered the benzoin group together with Weller and proposed the group theory and polyacid theory, which laid the foundation for the structure theory of organic chemistry.


Liebig published a total of 318 papers in his lifetime, and "Organic Chemical Analysis" completed on November 22, 1841, is a classic masterpiece of world chemistry. His works also include Biochemistry, Chemical Communication, Chemical Research, Fundamentals of Agricultural Chemistry, Scientific Letters on Modern Agriculture...etc., the Dictionary of Pure and Applied Chemistry co-edited by him and Weller, and 1831 The Journal of Drugs (later renamed Journal of Chemistry and Drugs) and others have played an important role in promoting the world's chemical research. As a result of this series of achievements, Liebig was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1840 and an honorary member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1842.


In Liebig's time, the world's organic chemistry has not yet been established as an independent discipline, the analysis technology of organic matter is relatively backward, and the chemical industry has just started. Liebig's series of research not only established a complete system for organic matter analysis but also promoted organic chemistry. The practical research has laid the foundation for the branches of agricultural chemistry, biochemistry, life chemistry, physiological chemistry, and pathological chemistry, and also made a pioneering contribution to the rise of organic chemistry as an independent discipline in the world. Under his leadership, the small town of Giessen became the chemical center of the world for a while, and then Germany in the 19th century became a chemical power. Liebig is known as the father of organic chemistry.


On April 18, 1873, Liebig died in Munich. One of his students wrote in his mourning,

For hundreds of years, no one has left such a rich and precious legacy for mankind like him.

In memory of Liebig, Giessen University was named Gast Liebig University after World War II.

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