Hermann Staudinger


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(1881–1965) German chemist

Staudinger, was born in Worms, Germany, the son of a philosophy professor; he was educated at the universities of Darmstadt, Munich, and Halle where, in 1903, he obtained his doctorate. He taught at the University of Strasbourg, the Karlsruhe Technical College, and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich before taking up an appointment at the University of Freiburg in 1926, where he remained until his retirement in 1951.

In 1922 Staudinger introduced the term ‘macromolecule’ into chemistry and went on to propound the unorthodox view that there was no reason why molecules could not reach any size whatever. He argued that chain molecules could be constructed of almost any length in which the atoms were joined together by the normal valence bonds. Innocuous as such a view may now sound, at the time it was considered very strange and, by some, quite absurd.

The accepted view, the aggregate theory, regarded molecules in excess of a molecular weight of 5000 as aggregates of much smaller molecules joined together by the secondary valence (nebenvalenzen) of Alfred Werner. Staudinger argued for his theory at length at a stormy meeting of the Zurich Chemical Society in 1926 in front of his most important critics. Within a few years the issue would be decisively settled in favor of Staudinger by the development of the ultracentrifuge by Theodor Svedberg. Consequently Staudinger was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1953.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.

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