Martin Heinrich Klaproth and the Analytical Chemistry

Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743 – 1817)

Martin Heinrich Klaproth (17431817)

On December 1, 1743, German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth was born. Klaproth became well known a founder of analytical chemistry discovered uranium (1789), zirconium (1789), cerium (1803), and contributed to the identification of others. Although he did not isolate them as pure metal samples, he was able to recognize them as new elements.

Martin Heinrich Klaproth worked at the council pharmacy in Quedlinburg, and later became assistant in various pharmacies in Hannover, Berlin, and Gdansk. He studied with the chemists Johann Heinrich Pott and Andreas Sigismund Marggraf in Berlin. At the Academy of Sciences, Klaproth started working as a regular chemist, succeeding Franz Carl Achard.

Starting from 1787, Martin Klaproth became part-time professor of chemistry at the Berlin Artillery School, a lecturer at the Collegium medico-chirurgicum and a teacher at the Berg- und Hütteninstitut. From 1795 to 1815, Klaproth published six volumes of his “Contributions to the Chemical Knowledge of Mineral Bodies”. Next to his achievements in mineral analysis, Klaproth was interested in determining the silver, copper and zinc content of metals, coins and glass analysis. He further developed a digestion process for silicates, found phosphates in urine, and elucidated the composition of alum, apatite, red copper ore, yellow lead ore, aragonite, lepidolite, dolomite, emerald, topaz, garnet and titaniumite.

Martin Klaproth became the first to describe a series of unknown or incorrectly arranged compounds and carried out new precise qualitative and quantitative analyses. He compiled an immense mineral collection, which at the end of his life comprised 4828 pieces and was purchased by the Berlin University after his death, and is now housed in the Berlin Museum of Natural History.

In 1810, Klaproth was appointed professor of chemistry at the newly founded Berlin University on Alexander von Humboldt’s suggestion. Jöns Jacob Berzelius was proposed as a successor to the chair of chemistry, but he rejected his position and proposed the young Eilhard Mitscherlich instead. In 1815 he was elected as an external member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences.

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