Charles Adolphe Wurtz


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(1817–1884) French chemist

Wurtz was educated at the university in his native city of Strasbourg. He worked under Justus von Liebig in Giessen and under Jean Dumas in Paris. In 1853 he was appointed professor of chemistry at the Ecole de Médicine until he moved to the chair of organic chemistry at the Sorbonne in 1874.

Wurtz contributed to the development of the type theory of Charles Gerhardt and Auguste Laurente by introducing the ammonia type in 1849. He synthesized ethylamine from ammonia and constructed his ammonia type by substituting the carbon radical C2H5 for one or more of the hydrogen atoms in ammonia (NH3). He thus produced the series ammonia (NH3); ethylamine (C2H5NH2); diethylamine (C2H5)2NH); triethylamine (C2H5)3N). Other types were added by Gerhardt.

In 1855 Wurtz developed a method of synthesizing hydrocarbons by reacting alkyl halides with sodium (still known as the Wurtz reaction). With Rudolf Fittig he developed a similar reaction for synthesizing aromatic hydrocarbons. In 1860 Wurtz was involved, with August Kekulé, in initiating the first conference of the International Chemical Congress at Karlsruhe. He was also involved in the Couper tragedy. In 1858 Archibald Couper had apparently anticipated Kekulé in working out the structure of the carbon atom and asked Wurtz to present his paper to the Académie des Sciences. Wurtz delayed and Kekulé published. When Couper remonstrated with Wurtz he was expelled from Wurtz's laboratory. Couper had a breakdown on his return to Scotland and never did any serious chemistry again.

Wurtz was a prolific author, his La Théorie atomique (1879; Atomic Theory), being his best-known work.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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