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Eilhardt Mitscherlich

(1794 - 1863)

(Born: Neuende, Oldenburg, Germany, 7 January 1794; Died: Berlin, Germany, 28 August 1863) German chemist.

Mitscherlich was one of the most important scientists of his generation. He came from a pastor's family and studied medicine and Oriental languages receiving from the University of Giessen a Ph.D. in 1814. He studied and taught chemistry at the University of Göttingen. In 1822, at the age of 28, he became a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences and a professor at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin. He devoted the rest of his life to research in chemistry and mineralogy, and was very much part of the Prussian Establishment. He also became a protege of Jöns Jakob Berzelius and developed a deep friendship with him.

Biographical references: ADB: 22, 15. Barr, Index to Biographical Fragments, 1973: 180. DBA: I 848, 369-370. Drugulin, Sechstausend Portraits, 1863: nos. 3708-11 & 6211. DSB: 9, 423-6. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition. Great Chemists: 481-494, portrait. Hamberger & Meusel, Gelehrte Teutschland, 1796-1834. ISIS, 1913-65: 2, 186. NDB: 17, 568-70 [by H.-W. Schütt]. Poggendorff: 2, cols. 160-2. Sarjeant, Geologists, 1980: 3, 1732 & 2, 905. Schaedler, Biographisch Handwörterbuch, 1891: 81-2. Schütt, H.W., Eilhard Mitscherlich, prince of Prussian chemistry. [Washington, D.C., American Chemical Society and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, c1997]. xvi, 239 p., illus. WBI. World Who's Who in Science: 1191.

1. German, 1896 [Collected works].
Gesammelte Schriften von Eilhard Mitscherlich. Lebensbild, Briefwechsel und Abhandlungen. Herausgegeben von A. Mitscherlich. Mit ben Bildnissen Mitscherlichs und Berzelius in Heliogravüre, 85 Abbildungen im Text und 10 Tafeln in Steindruck. Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler, 1896.

8°: xiv, 678 p., 14 plates (some folded), 85 illus., portraits (Mitscherlich and Berzelius).

Very scarce. Compiled and edited by Alexander Mitscherlich [1836-1918], the author's son. Eilhard Mitscherlich is best known for his work in crystallography and chemistry. He discovered that substances with similar chemical compositions may have the same shape of crystal, showing that one element can sometimes substitute for another in the crystal lattice. This phenomenon, which was named isomorphism, was demonstrated by Mitscherlich with crystals of potassium arsenate and potassium phosphate and with some of the sulphates. He further noticed that sulphur forms either rhombic or monoclinic crystals and this led him to the discovery of dimorphism, the capacity of some elements to occur in two distinct forms. While visiting Paris in 1823/4 he and Fresnel discovered that the optical axes of a biaxial crystal change with a change in temperature. All these discoveries were announced to the scientific world through Mitsherlich's many articles in scientific journals. In the Gesammelte Schriften they have all been collected together, and with fine portrait of the author and Berzelius, they form an important monument to this remarkable scientist.

Bibliographical references: BL. Bolton, Bibliography of Chemistry. Suppl. 1, 1899: p. 54. Melhado, E.M., "Mitscherlich's discovery of isomorphism", Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 11, (1980), 87-123. NUC. Schütt, Entdeckung des Isomorphismus, 1984. Schütt, Entdeckung des Isomorphismus, 1998.

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