Adolf von Baeyer and the Color Blue

Adolf von Baeyer

On October 31, 1835, German chemist and Nobel Laureate Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer was born. He was the first who succeeded with the synthesis of indigo (1880) and formulated its structure (1883), for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1905.

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer was interested in chemical experiments from early age. His father was a lieutenant-general and originated the European system of geodetic measurement. Von Baeyer enrolled at the University of Berlin in 1853 studying mostly mathematics and physics. He visited Bunsen‘s laboratory in Heidelberg and began working on methyl chloride. Von Baeyer published his first work in 1857 and was able to start working at Kekulé’s private laboratory in Heidelberg. He became interested in the ingenious structure theory and received his doctorate in 1858 in Berlinfor his work on cacodyl compounds which had been done in Kekulé’s laboratory. [1,3]

About two years later, the scientist became university teacher and lecturer in organic chemistry at the “Gewerbe-Akademie” in Berlin. In 1866, the University of Berlin, at the suggestion of A.W. Hofmann, conferred on him a senior lectureship, which, however, was unpaid. In this period however, Baeyer started his work on indigo, which soon led to the discovery of indole and to the partial synthesis of indigotin. Also in this period, Baeyer developed his theory of carbon-dioxide assimilation in formaldehyde. He was appointed chair at the University of Munich after Justus von Liebig had passed away and Baeyer was able to perform the synthesis of indigo. One year later, in 1881, the Royal Society of London awarded him the Davy Medal for his work with indigo. To celebrate his 70th birthday, a collection of his scientific papers was published in 1905. [1,2]

Adolf von Baeyer‘s work was known to be completed with admirable penetration and extraordinary experimental skill. He was careful never to overestimate the value of a theory. While Kekulé sometimes approached Nature with preconceived opinions, von Baeyer would say: “I have never set up an experiment to see whether I was right, but to see how the materials behave“. Even in old age his views did not become fixed, and his mind remained open to new developments in chemical science. [1]

At yovisto, you may be interested in a short video on how to create indigo.

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