Aromatic Apparitions

in Image and Reality

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226723327
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226723358 | DOI:
Aromatic Apparitions

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Benzene, the prototype of what chemists call “aromatic” substances, was first isolated from coal gas by Michael Faraday in 1825. In 1832, Justus von Liebig and Friedrich Wöhler collaborated on a study of the oil of bitter almonds (benzaldehyde), during which they prepared a dozen related compounds and arrived at the conclusion that all of them contained a “benzoyl” radical. After William Perkin discovered mauve, the first coal tar dye, aromatic compounds became the object of intense commercial interest, even though the structural details of their molecules were still unknown. Aromatic chemistry became a recognized subfield of organic chemistry in the late 1850s, which coincided with the rise of the coal tar dye industry. The development of the structural theory of aromatic substances is a classic example of the heuristic importance of visual symbols and mental images in the pursuit of chemical science.

Keywords: benzene; aromatic compounds; Justus von Liebig; Friedrich Wöhler; benzaldehyde; mauve; aromatic chemistry; organic chemistry; mental images; visual symbols

Chapter.  15887 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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