Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe

Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe

German chemist
Date of Birth: 27.09.1818
Country: Germany

  1. Biography of Adolf Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe
  2. Early Career
  3. Scientific Contributions
  4. Editorial Work and Legacy

Biography of Adolf Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe

Adolf Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe was a German organic chemist. He was born on September 27, 1818, in Elliehausen, near Göttingen, Germany. Kolbe showed an early interest in chemistry, and from 1838 to 1842, he attended the University of Göttingen, where he studied under the renowned chemist Friedrich Wöhler.

Early Career

After completing his studies, Kolbe served as an assistant to Robert Wilhelm Bunsen at the University of Marburg from 1842 to 1845. During this time, he conducted research on various organic compounds and made significant contributions to the field of organic chemistry.

In 1845, Kolbe moved to London and worked at the Royal School of Mines until 1847. He then returned to the University of Marburg, where he became a professor in 1851. Kolbe remained at Marburg until 1865 when he accepted a position as a professor at the University of Leipzig, where he spent the rest of his career.

Scientific Contributions

Kolbe's scientific research focused exclusively on organic chemistry. In 1845, he successfully synthesized acetic acid from elements through the use of carbon disulfide. Two years later, in collaboration with Edward Frankland, Kolbe obtained propionic acid by saponifying ethyl cyanide, thereby introducing a general method for obtaining carboxylic acids from alcohols through nitriles.

In 1849, Kolbe proposed an electrochemical method for the synthesis of saturated hydrocarbons by electrolyzing solutions of sodium or potassium salts of carboxylic acids. This reaction, known as the Kolbe electrolysis, became an important tool in organic synthesis.

Kolbe made significant contributions to the theoretical understanding of organic chemistry as well. In the 1850s, he developed his own theory, which suggested that organic compounds could be derived from carbon dioxide through the substitution of oxygen with complex radicals. He also independently proposed the concept of tetravalent carbon, which was later confirmed by other chemists.

Despite his advancements in organic chemistry, Kolbe opposed the theory of chemical structure proposed by August Kekulé and the stereochemistry developed by Jacobus van 't Hoff. He criticized van 't Hoff's work as "fantastic nonsense" without any factual basis.

Editorial Work and Legacy

In addition to his research, Kolbe served as the editor of the "Handwörterbuch der reinen und angewandten Chemie" (Dictionary of Pure and Applied Chemistry) from 1847 to 1851. He also published the "Zeitschrift für Praktische Chemie" (Journal of Practical Chemistry) from 1869 to 1884.

Kolbe's influence extended beyond his own research. Many notable chemists, such as Theodore Curtius, Vladimir Markovnikov, Nikolay Men'shutkin, Alexander Zaitsev, and Edward Frankland, were among his students and collaborators.

Adolf Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe died on November 25, 1884, in Leipzig, Germany. His contributions to organic chemistry and his theoretical insights continue to be recognized and studied by chemists worldwide.