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Justus Freiherr von Liebig (12 May 1803 18 April 1873) was

a German chemist who made major contributions to agricultural and biologicalchemistry, and worked on the organization of organic chemistry. As a professor, he devised the modern laboratory-oriented teaching method, and for such innovations, he is regarded as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time. He is one of the pioneers in the field of organic chemistry and introduced the science of agricultural chemistry and known as the "father of the fertilizer industry" for his discovery of nitrogen as an essential plant nutrient, and his formulation of the Law of the Minimum which described the effect of individual nutrients on crops. He also developed a manufacturing process for beef extracts, and founded a company, Liebig beef bouillon cube. Extract of Meat Company, that later trademarkedthe Oxo brand

Justus Liebig was born in Darmstadt on May 12, 1803, into a middle-class family the son of a druggist and dealer in chemicals. From childhood he was fascinated by chemistry. His early interest in chemistry may possibly be attributed to the fact that as a boy he was permitted to play with the chemicals in his father's laboratory. He was at first apprenticed to an apothecary, but after his experiments had blown out all the windows in the attic of the shop, this career came to a sudden end. At the age of 13, Liebig lived through the year without a summer, when the majority of food-crops in the northern hemisphere were destroyed by a volcanic winter. Germany was among the hardest-hit in the global famine that ensued, and the experience is said to have shaped Liebig's later work. Thanks in part to Liebig's innovations in fertilizers and agriculture, the 1816 famine became known as "the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world". Liebig was a student in chemistry at both Bonn and Erlangen and received his doctoral degree from the latter university in 1822. Liebig was apprenticed to the apothecary Gottfried Pirsch (17921870) in Heppenheim and attended the University of Bonn, studying under Karl Wilhelm Gottlob Kastner, a business associate of his father. When Kastner moved to the University of Erlangen, Liebig followed him and later took his doctorate from Erlangen. Liebig did not receive the doctorate until well after he had left

Erlangen, and the circumstances are clouded by a possible scandal [see Munday (1990)]. Liebig left Erlangen in March 1822, in part because of his involvement with the radical Korps Rhenania (a nationalist student organization) but also because of his hopes for more advanced chemical studies. However, he was not satisfied with his knowledge and training and went to Paris, which was then an important center for chemical research. In autumn 1822 Liebig went to study in Paris on a grant obtained for him by Kastner from the Hessian government. He worked in the private laboratoryof Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, and was also befriended by Alexander von Humboldt and Georges Cuvier (17691832). He worked first in the private laboratory of a chemist, and from there he was taken into the laboratory of the discoverer of gas laws, Joseph Gay-Lussac. Liebig worked there from the summer of 1823 until the spring of 1824. After leaving Paris, Liebig returned to Darmstadt and married Henriette Moldenhauer, the daughter of a state official. When he returned to Darmstadt carrying impressive letters of recommendation from Gay-Lussac and Alexander von Humboldt, the Hessian government immediately appointed Liebig as assistant professor of chemistry at the small University of Giessen. Two years later he was made professor, but in 1852 he moved to Munich, where he remained for the rest of his life.

How is it that one who was labeled "hopelessly useless" by his school master could later become one of the master chemistry teachers of all time? Justus von Liebig, the son of a dealer in painters' supplies and common chemicals, was born in Darmstadt, Germany, on May 12, 1803. He found little satisfaction in the formal education available at the time, preferring to help his father in the family business working with chemicals and conducting experiments on his own. Even as a young man Liebig was clearly focused. When he was fourteen he was asked by his instructor what he was planning to become; he replied, "a chemist." This profession did not yet exist, and his reply was met with convulsive laughter. A visit to Darmstadt by a travelling peddler was pivotal to Liebig's early career. Among other things, the peddler sold toy torpedoes powered by fulminates. After watching the fulminates being prepared from materials he easily recognized as mercury, nitric acid, and alcohol, Liebig began to experiment on his own, and soon produced such excellent torpedoes

that they were sold in his father's store. Legend has it that fulminates also played an active role in terminating portions of Liebig's educational career. An untimely explosion of some fulminate he had carried to school led to his expulsion from the local gymnasium. Later, he blew the glass and cross bars from the window of his room into the street, and his parents apprenticed him to an apothecary at Heppenheim in an effort to channel his experimental activities in a more positive direction. In ten months, he mastered the profession, and he continued studying fulminates in his spare time. Some historical accounts say that Liebig was sent away from Heppenheim after an explosion in his attic room severely rocked the house. Upon his return from Heppenheim, Liebig divided his time between experimentation and reading the court library of the reigning duke. The size of the Liebig family prevented his parents from continuing his education. Fortunately, a grant from the Hessian government allowed Liebig to enter the University of Bonn in 1820. Here he studied with Karl Wilhelm Kastner, who persuaded Liebig to follow him to Erlangen in 1821 by promising to teach him chemical analysis. However, to his disappointment, Liebig soon found that Kastner did not know how to do a mineral analysis. Indeed the approach to chemical studies in Germany at that time had a philosophical rather than an experimental approach. Liebig continued to study the fulminates on his own and he also became involved in student activities. He organized a Natural Science Society of which he became president. He also became a member of the Korps Rhenania where he served in the capacity of treasurer. This was an organization similar to modern fraternities, but since these "korps" usually had a political purpose, they were banned. In a confrontation between members of the Korps and the townspeople, Liebig spoke disrespectfully to the intervening police, going so far as to strike the hat from the head of an officer and an attorney. For this action Liebig was sentenced to three days in jail. After being acquitted of charges of revolutionary involvement, Liebig petitioned the Grand Duke for a grant to study in Paris, and in November of 1822, he began to study with Thnard, Gay-Lussac, Chevreul, and Vauquelin. Through Thnard's recommendation, he gained admittance to a private laboratory and he continued his work on fulminates. He presented the results of this work to the French Academy on March 22, 1824, and on May 24th of that year he was appointed extraordinary, or assistant, professor at the University of Giessen in Germany. Since it was rare for anyone to become a university professor at the age of twenty-one, this was quite an accomplishment.

After a hostile welcome by fellow faculty members and the death of the only other professor of chemistry, Liebig was able to begin his teaching career. Convinced by his own experiences as a student of the importance of a laboratory approach to the study of chemistry, Liebig developed a course of study which in many ways has served as a model for all laboratories of instruction ever since. The only building available was a deserted barracks in relatively poor condition. However spartan the surroundings, students received a very thorough education. Students drilled in qualitative and quantitative analysis, prepared some organic compounds, and carried out investigations suggested by the professor in charge. Thus, Liebig began his career as one of the premier chemistry teachers of all time. Students came from all over Europe, Great Britain, and the United States to study with the master. Many Nobel Laureates in chemistry and biology can be traced back to Liebig (see chart in Appendix). Indeed, one of Liebig's greatest contributions to pure chemistry is his reformation of the methods for teaching the subject. Another of Liebig's major accomplishments was in the field of applied chemistry. Two books, Organic Chemistry an its Application to Agriculture and Physiology, and Organic Chemistry in its Application to Physiology and Pathology, published in 1840 and 1842 respectively, revolutionized food production. Even though some of Liebig's ideas were later proved to be incorrect, he set in motion an application of chemical principles that had a profound effect on the future welfare of mankind. For the first time it was possible to produce enough food stuffs to feed the growing population. On April 18, 1873 Justus von Liebig died leaving an extensive legacy to the chemical world. He was one of the most influential chemists of the nineteenth century, and he laid the groundwork for the extensive research in organic chemistry that was to characterize the later half of the nineteenth century. He was also noted for his original research documented in over two-hundred papers, his teaching ability, the development of a research laboratory approach to teaching, and his efforts to bring the benefits of chemistry to the lay population. Truly Justus von Liebig deserves the praise and remembrance of mankind in general and chemists specificallyquite an accolade for one labeled "hopelessly useless" by his school master.


When Liebig arrived at Giessen, he found the small school poorly prepared for instruction in chemistry. He changed all of this and made Giessen the chemical studies center of the world during his stay of 28 years. He was described as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time. Not the least of Liebig's accomplishments at Giessen was the elimination of practical chemistry training, that is, in methods for making soap, distilling spirits, manufacturing paints and varnishes, and other industrial procedures. He contended that no progress in chemical technology could be made until there had been established a firm theoretical foundation which was thoroughly understood by a new generation of chemists. Liebig predicted that the German chemical industry would gain great benefits from the scientific study of chemistry, and the latter half of the 19th century proved him to have been right. The Giessen years were also marked by Liebig's close association with Friedrich Whler. Their partnership proved to be one of the soundest and most productive in the history of science. They became personally acquainted in 1824, when Liebig paid a visit to Berlin, and from that point on their partnership and friendship were confirmed. In 1832 they discovered the "benzoyl radical" (C7H5O), the importance of the discovery being its demonstration that in organic substances there are groups of atoms which hold together and in reactions act like elements. From this discovery Liebig was led to the discovery of the ethyl radical (C2H5), which is found in such compounds as alcohol and ether. Whler and Liebig published their results on experiments with uric acid in 1838. At Giessen, Liebig produced chloroform and chloral, discovered hippuric acid, studied the alkaloids and the amino acids, and began his work in agricultural chemistry and in the chemistry of life itself. He was the editor of Annalen der Pharmacie (1832-1839), which was continued as Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie after 1840. He developed a method of organic analysis which is still used today. Although many of his theories were modified by later research and increased knowledge, he did more than any other individual to raise chemistry to a preeminent position in 19th-century Germany. In 1824 at the age of 21 and with Humboldt's recommendation, Liebig became a professor at the University of Giessen. He established the world's first major school of chemistry there. He received an appointment from the King of Bavaria to the University of Munich in 1852, where he remained until his death in 1873 in Munich. He became Freiherr (baron) in 1845. He is buried in the Alter Sdfriedhof in Munich. He

founded and edited from 1832 the journal Annalen der Chemie, which became the leading German-language journal of Chemistry. The volumes from his lifetime are often referenced just as Liebigs Annalen; and following his death the title was officially changed to Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie. He was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1837.


Liebig improved organic analysis with the Kaliapparat a five-bulb device that used a potassium hydroxidesolution to remove the organic combustion product carbon dioxide. He downplayed the role of humus in plant nutrition and discovered that plants feed on nitrogen compounds and carbon dioxide derived from the air, as well as on minerals in the soil. One of his most recognized and far-reaching accomplishments was the invention of nitrogen-based fertilizer. Liebig believed that nitrogen must be supplied to plant roots in the form of ammonia, and recognized the possibility of substituting chemical fertilizers fornatural (animal dung, etc.) ones. Nitrogen fertilizers are now widely used throughout the world, and their production is a substantial segment of the chemical industry. He also formulated the Law of the Minimum, stating that a plant's development is limited by the one essential mineral that is in the relatively shortest supply, visualized as "Liebig's barrel". This concept is a qualitative version of the principles used to determine the application of fertilizer in modern agriculture. He was also one of the first chemists to organize a laboratory as we know it today. His novel method of organic analysis made it possible for him to direct the analytical work of many graduate students. The vapor condensation device he popularized for his research is still known as a Liebig condenser, although it was in common use long before Liebig's research began. Liebig's students were from many of the German states as well asBritain and the United States, and they helped create an international reputation for their Doktorvater. In 1835 he invented a process for silvering that greatly improved the utility of mirrors and in 1850 he investigated Spontaneous human combustion, dismissing the simplistic explanations based onethanol due to alcoholism Liebig's work on applying chemistry to plant and animal physiology was especially influential. At a time when many chemists such as Jns Jakob Berzelius insisted on a hard

and fast separation between the organic and inorganic, Liebig argued that the production of all organic substances no longer belongs just to the organism. It must be viewed as not only probable but as certain that we shall produce them in our laboratories. Sugar, salicin [aspirin], and morphine will be artificially produced." Liebig's arguments against any chemical distinction between living (physiological) and dead chemical processes proved a great inspiration to several of his students and others who were interested in materialism. Though Liebig distanced himself from the direct political implications of materialism, he tacitly supported the work of Karl Vogt (18171895), Jacob Moleschott (18221893), and Ludwig Buechner (18241899). Liebig played a more direct role in reforming politics in the German states through his promotion of science-based agriculture and the publication ofJohn Stuart Mill's Logic. Through Liebig's close friendship with the Vieweg family publishing house, he arranged for his former student Jacob Schiel (18131889) to translate Mill's important work for German publication. Liebig liked Mill's Logic in part because it promoted science as a means to social and political progress, but also because Mill featured several examples of Liebig's research as an ideal for the scientific method. Liebig is also credited with the notion that "searing meat seals in the juices. This idea, still widely believed, is not true. Working with Belgian engineer George Giebert, Liebig devised an efficient method of producing beef extract from carcasses. In 1865, they founded theLiebig Extract of Meat Company, marketing the extract as a cheap, nutritious alternative to real meat. Some years after Liebig's death, in 1899, the product was trademarked "Oxo". Liebig is also credited with the invention of Marmite because of his discovery that yeast could be concentrated. After World War II, the University of Giessen was officially renamed after him, "Justus-Liebig-Universitt Giessen". In 1953 the West German post office issued a stamp in his honor