Ernst Otto Fischer


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(1918–1994) German inorganic chemist

Fischer, the son of a physics professor, was educated in his native city at the Munich Institute of Technology, where he obtained his PhD in 1952. He taught at the University of Munich serving as professor of inorganic chemistry from 1957 to 1964, when he became the director of the Institute for Inorganic Chemistry at the Institute of Technology.

Fischer is noted for his work on inorganic complexes. In 1951 two chemists, T. Kealy and P. Pauson, were attempting to join two five-carbon (cyclopentadiene) rings together and discovered the compound C5H5FeC5H5, which they proposed had an iron atom joined to a carbon atom on each ring.

Fischer, on reflection, considered such a structure inadequate for he was unable to see how it could provide sufficient stability with its carbon–iron–carbon bonds. The British chemist Geoffrey Wilkinson suggested a more novel structure in which the iron atom was sandwiched between two parallel rings and thus formed bonds with the electrons in the rings, rather than with individual carbon atoms. Compounds of this type are called ‘sandwich compounds’.

By careful x-ray analysis Fischer confirmed the proposed structure of ferrocene, as the compound was called, and for this work shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry with Wilkinson in 1973. Fischer went on to do further work on transition-metal complexes with organic compounds and was one of the leading workers in the field of organometallic chemistry.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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