Alexander von Humboldt
          1769 - 1859
Alexander Von Humboldt was born in Berlin, Germany on September 14,1769 and died in Berlin on May 6, 1859. He is best remembered for his exploration of Central and South America with the French neturalist Bonpland in 1799.

The areas they explored included the Venezulan coast, Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, the Andes and parts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico. They collected thousands of specimens of rocks and plants and studied volcanoes, ocean currents, earth's magnetism, climate and animal life. In 1829, Humboldt made a similar trip to the Ural Mountains, the Caspian Sea and Siberia.

In addition to explorations, Humboldt did research in many other field including mineralogy, astrology and forestry. He studied the behaviour of gases with Joseph Gay-Lussac, laying a foundation for later studies of the structure of matter. Humboldt was also a diplomat and was sent on several missions to European courts.

Humboldt published many writings on the discoveries made during his explorations. The most widely read and influential of these was the five volume work, The Cosmos(1845-1862), in which he presented an all-embracing view of the universe and brought together the best scientific knowledge of his time.

Wilhelm von Humboldt
1767 - 1835
Wilhelm Von Humboldt was born in Potsdam, Germany on June 22,1767 and died on April 8,1835 at the family manor in Tegel. He studied at the University of Frankfurt(Oder) along with his brother Alexander von Humboldt.

Humboldt worked on various periodicals and wrote his aesthetic essays on Hermann und Dorothea. He created Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen (Ideas for an attempt to determine the limits of state effectiveness).

Wilhelm von Humboldt married Caroline von Dacherden, daughter of a Prussian councillor of the Supreme Court, in 1791. In 1792, hemoves to Paris, where he continued his studies and observed social development in France. Humboldt represented Prussia at the Holy See in Rome between 1802 and 1808.

In February 1809, he was appointed head of the department of education and arts at the Home Office in Berlin. A newly structured education system intended to guarantee all social classes better access to education was developed during his term of office. However, Humboldt was not in Berlin to witness the opening of the university in October 1810. He resigned his office the previous summer as a result of disagreements and moved to Vienna and later London as a Prussian envoy. He resigned from civil service in 1819.

Wilhelm von Humboldt subsequently devoted himself to his scientific studies in the quiet atmosphere of the family manor in Tegel until his death.

Justus Von Liebeg
1803 - 1873
Justus Von Liebeg was born in Darmstadt, Germany on May 12, 1803 and died on April 18, 1873. The son of a dealer in painters' supplies and common chemicals, he became one of the master chemistry teachers of all time.

Justus Von Liebeg 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. Because of his destructive activities with the fulminates, 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.

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.

Liebig also petitioned the Grand Duke for a grant to study in Paris, and in November of 1822, he began to study with Thénard, Gay-Lussac, Chevreul, and Vauquelin. Through Thénard'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 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. 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 specifically, quite an accolade for one once labeled "hopelessly useless" by his school master.

Link : Collection of Liebeg's Chemical Letters (Copyright: Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation)

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