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Justus von Liebig - Famous Inventor

: Justus von Liebig
: 12-May-1803
: 18-April-1873
: Germany
: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, University of Bonn
: German Chemist

About Inventor

Justus Freiherr von Liebig was a German chemist who made major contributions to agricultural and biological chemistry, and was considered the founder of organic chemistry.As a professor at the University of Giessen, he devised the modern laboratory-oriented teaching method, and for such innovations, he is regarded one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time.He is considered 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 Extract of Meat Company, that later trademarked the Oxo brand beef bouillon cube. 

Early life

Justus von Liebig was born in Darmstadt into the middle-class family of Johann Georg Liebig and Maria Caroline Möser in early May 1803.His father was a drysalter and hardware merchant who compounded and sold paints, varnishes and pigments, which he developed in his own workshop.From childhood Justus was fascinated with chemistry.

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 attended grammar school at the Ludwig-Georgs-Gymnasium in Darmstadt, from the age of 8 to 14.Leaving without a certificate of completion, he was apprenticed for several months to the apothecary Gottfried Pirsch (1792–1870) in Heppenheim before returning home, possibly because his father could not afford to pay his indentures. He worked with his father for the next two years,then 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.

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. The circumstances are clouded by possible scandal.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 laboratory of Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, and was also befriended by Alexander von Humboldt and Georges Cuvier (1769–1832). Liebig's doctorate from Erlangen was conferred on 23 June 1823, a considerable time after he left, as a result of Kastner's intervention on his behalf. Kastner pleaded that the requirement of a dissertation be waived, and the degree granted in absentia.

Research and development

Liebig left Paris to return to Darmstadt in April 1824. On 26 May 1824 at the age of 21 and with Humboldt's recommendation, Liebig became a professor extraordinarius at the University of Giessen.Liebig's appointment was part of an attempt to modernize the University of Giessen and attract more students. He received a small stipend, without laboratory funding or access to facilities.

His situation was complicated by the presence of existing faculty: Professor Wilhelm Zimmermann (1780-1825) taught general chemistry as part of the philosophy faculty, leaving medical chemistry and pharmacy to Professor Philipp Vogt in the medical faculty. Vogt was happy to support a reorganization in which pharmacy was taught by Liebig and became the responsibility of the faculty of arts, rather than the faculty of medicine. Zimmermann found himself competing unsuccessfully with Liebig for students and their lecture fees. He refused to allow Liebig to use existing space and equipment, and finally committed suicide on 19 July 1825. The deaths of Zimmermann and a Professor Blumhof who taught technology and mining opened the way for Liebig to apply for a full professorship. Liebig was appointed to the ordentlicher chair in chemistry on 7 December 1825, receiving a considerably increased salary and a laboratory allowance.

Liebig married Henriette "Jettchen" Moldenhauer (1807-1881), the daughter of a state official, in May 1826. They had five children, Georg (1827-1903), Agnes (1828-1862), Hermann (1831-1894), Johanna (1836-1925) and Marie (1845-1920). Although Liebig was Lutheran and Jettchen Catholic, their differences in religion appear to have been resolved amicably by bringing their sons up in the Lutheran religion and their daughters as Catholics.

Later life

In 1852, Justus von Liebig accepted an appointment from King Maximilian II of Bavaria to the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He also became scientific advisor to King Maxilimian II, who hoped to transform the University of Munich into a center for scientific research and development.In part, Liebig accepted the post because, at age 50, he was finding it increasingly difficult to supervise large numbers of laboratory students. His new accommodations in Munich reflected this shift in focus. They included a comfortable house suitable for extensive entertaining, a small laboratory, and a newly-built lecture theatre capable of holding 300 people with a demonstration laboratory at the front. There he gave lectures to the university and fortnightly to the public. In his position as a promoter of science, Liebig was appointed president of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, becoming perpetual president of the Royal Bavarian Academy of Sciences in 1858.

Liebig enjoyed a personal friendship with Maximilian II, who died on 10 March 1864. After Maximilian's death, Liebig and other liberal Protestant scientists in Bavaria were increasingly opposed by ultramontane Catholics.

Liebig died in Munich in 1873, and is buried in the Alter Südfriedhof in Munich.

Awards Received by Inventor

Liebig was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1837.

He became a first class member of the Ludwig Order, founded by Ludwig I, and awarded by Ludwig II on 24 July 1837.

The British Royal Society awarded him the Copley Medal "for his discoveries in organic chemistry, and particularly for his development of the composition and theory of organic radicals" in 1840.

Ludwig II of Bavaria conveyed the title of Freiherr on Liebig on 29 December 1845. In English, the closest translation is "Baron".

In 1850, he received the French Légion d'honneur, presented by chemist Jean-Baptiste Dumas, the French trade minister.

He was honored with the Prussian Order of Merit for Science by Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in 1851.

In 1869, he was awarded the Albert Medal by the Royal Society of Arts, "for his numerous valuable researches and writings, which have contributed most importantly to the development of food-economy and agriculture, to the advancement of chemical science, and to the benefits derived from that science by Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce."

Posthumous honors

In 1946, after the end of World War II, the University of Giessen was officially renamed after him, "Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen".

In 1953 the West German post office issued a stamp in his honor.

In 1953 the third General Assembly of the International Scientific Centre of Fertilizers (CIEC), founded in 1932, was organized in Darmstadt to honor Justus von Liebig on the 150 anniversary of his birth.

A portrait of Liebig hangs in the Burlington House headquarters of the Royal Society of Chemistry. It was presented to the society's forerunner, the Chemical Society, by his god-daughter Mrs Alec Tweedie, nee Harley, daughter of Emma Muspratt.

Liebig Medals

A number of organizations have granted medals in honor of Justus von Liebig. In 1871, the Versammlung deutscher Land- und Forstwirte (Assembly of German Farmers and Foresters) first awarded a Liebig Gold Medal, given to Theodor Reuning. The image was struck from a portrait commissioned in 1869 from Friedrich Brehmer.

For a number of years, the Liebig Trust Fund, established by Baron Liebig, was administered by the Royal Bavarian Academy of Sciences at Munich and members of the Liebig family. They were empowered to award gold and silver Liebig Medals to deserving German scientists "for the purpose of encouraging research in agricultural science". Silver medals could be awarded to scientists from other countries.Some of those who received medals include:

1893, silver, Sir John Lawes and Joseph Henry Gilbert, England

1894, silver, Professor Eugene Woldemar Hilgard, United States, "for meritorious work in the investigation of the physical and chemical properties of soils."

1896, gold, Professor Friedrich Stohmann, professor of agricultural chemistry in Leipzig University.

1899, gold, Albert Schultz-Lupitz, Germany

1908, gold, Max Rubner, Germany

In 1903, the Verein deutscher Chemiker (Association of German Chemists) also had a medal struck using Brehmer's portrait.Their Liebig Medal was first awarded in 1903 to Adolf von Baeyer, and in 1904 to Dr. Rudolf Knietsch of the Badische Ani-lin und Soda-Fabrik.As of 2014 it continues to be awarded.

At the third World Congress of CIEC, held at Heidelberg in 1957, the "Sprengel-Liebing Medal" was awarded to Dr. E. Feisst, President of CIEC, for outstanding contributions in agricultural chemistry.


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