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Döbereiner, Johann Wolfgang

Döbereiner, Johann Wolfgang

(b. Hof an der Saale, Germany, 13 December 1780; d. Jena, Germany, 24 March 1849)

chemistry.

Döbereiner was the son of Johann Adam Döbereiner, a farm worker who rose to become an estate manager, and Johanna Susanna Göring. He was self-educated, although his mother supervised his early instruction and in 1784 apprenticed him to an apothecary named Lutz. After three years’ service with Lutz, Döbereiner made his journeyman’s travels through Germany for five years; then he returned to Hof, married Clara Knab, and started a small business manufacturing white lead, sugar of lead, and other pigments and drugs. Almost simultaneously he began publishing articles on these chemicals in the Neues Berliner Jahrbüch für die Pharmazie, of which Adolph Ferdinand Gehlen was editor. Döbereiner’s business thrived for a few years, but then declined because of personal intrigue and the Napoleonic Wars.

Döbereiner was almost destitute when he was invited to teach at the technical college of the University of Jena, on the recommendation of Gehlen. He became associate professor of chemistry and pharmacy there in August 1810 and in November of that year received the enabling doctorate. Grand Duke Carl August of Saxony-Weimar, the principal patron of the school, may have expected to turn Döbereiner’s work to commercial profit, although Goethe, the chief administrator of the Academy and a close friend of Döbereiner, probably had more purely scientific motives in confirming his appointment.

Some of Döbereiner’s work at Jena was indeed practical in design. In 1812 he was engaged in the conversion of starch into sugar by Kirchhoff’s process, and at a slightly later date he made experiments with illuminating gas (the grand duke had admired gas lighting during a visit to England in 1814). Döbereiner gave up the latter experiments in 1816, however, following an explosion. He also gave a series of lectures on practical chemistry to a group of technicians, and taught special courses for economists and administrators.

Döbereiner made further experiments with spongy platinum, which he prepared by decomposing platinum salts in solution or by exposing them to direct heat. (The grand duke supported him in his work by generous gifts of the precious metal, obtained from his connections in Russia.) He constructed a pneumatic gas lighter (Platinfeuerzeug) which consisted of a hydrogenation device that brought hydrogen to impinge on the finely divided platinum; the ensuing oxidation then brought the metal to white heat. In 1828 Döbereiner wrote that about 20,000 of these lighters were in use in Germany and England but, since he had not taken out a patent, they brought him little profit; he added, “I love science more than money.”

In addition to his work with the oxides and complex salts of platinum, Döbereiner investigated that form of the metal that Liebig called “platinum black.” He studied the role of this material in the process of oxidation of sulfur dioxide and alcohol and proposed its use to manufacture acetic acid from the latter. He decomposed an alloy of raw platinum black and zinc with dilute acid and found a black powder that contained platinum, palladium, iridium, ruthenium, and osmium; this black powder was even more intensely reactive in air with acids and alcohols than its parent metal—in a dilute acid it easily oxidized its osmium (which could then be sublimated); and it exploded in a shower of sparks when brought into contact with direct heat in air.

Döbereiner was also involved in stoichiometric studies—for which he suggested the use of simple galvanic cells before Faraday—and wrote a book on the subject in 1816. He studied the action of pyrolusite as a catalyst in the production of oxygen from potassium chlorate and developed a method to separate calcium and magnesium by the use of ammonium oxalate or carbonate in the presence of ammonium chloride.

Döbereiner’s chief contribution to chemistry, however, was the result of his examination of the weights of the chemical elements—work which aided in the development of Mendeleev’s periodic table of all the known elements. Döbereiner’s interest in the relationship of elements to each other began as early as 1817; he based his early studies on analogies within certain groups of elements. He found, for example, that the equivalent weight of strontium is almost exactly equal to the mean weight of calcium and barium, and went on to investigate other such triads in alkalies and halogens. (The first members of a group cannot be fitted into such triads; Döbereiner pointed out in 1829 that fluorine and magnesium stand apart.) He further examined such systems of triads in light of other of their qualities—especially specific gravity and affinity—and found, for instance, that the specific gravity (as well as the atomic weight) of selenium is equal to the mean specific gravity (as well as the mean weight) of sulfur and tellurium. He further found that the intensity of chemical affinity decreases in proportion to increased atomic weight of the salt-forming elements in the triads chlorine-bromine-iodine and sulfur-selenium-tellurium but that it increases with atomic weight of the alkaliforming elements in the triads lithium-sodiumpotassium and calcium-strontium-barium.

Döbereiner was less successful in formulating rules for the oxides of what he called “heavy metal alumforming substances.” He hoped to codify these by “a rigorous experimental revision of the specific gravities and atomic weights,” but found the principle of grouping into triads doubtful for iron-manganesecobalt and nickel-copper-zinc (although lead did seem to represent the proper mean for silver and mercury).

Because of his involvement in practical problems (among others, he was concerned with the fermentation of alcohol and developed methods for improving wine, although he did not publish them in any detail) and because of his heavy and diversified teaching schedule, Döbereiner neglected further development of his work on triads. His merit was civilly rewarded, however, when he was made privy councillor and awarded the Cross of the White Falcon.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Döbereiner’s writings include Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Chemie (Jena, 1811); Zur Gährungschemie and Anleitung zur Darstellung verschiedener Arten künstlicher Weine, Biere, usw. (Jena, 1822,1844); Chemie für das praktische Leben (Jena, 1824–1825); “Vermischte chemische Erfahrungen über Platin, Gährungschemie, usw. Ein Schreiben an die Herren Kastner and Schweigger,” in Journal für Chemie und Physik, 54 (1828), 412–426; “Gruppierung der Elemente,” in Annalen der Physik, 15 (1829), 301–307; and Zur Chemie des Platins in wissenschaftlicher und technischer Beziehung... (Stuttgart, 1836).

II. Secondary Literature. Wilhelm Prandtl, Deutsche Chemiker in der ersten Hälfte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (Weinheim, 1956), pp. 37–78. Döbereiner’s publication on the triads was reprinted as no. 66 in Ostwald’s Klassiker and was translated in H. M. Leicester and H. S. Klickstein, Source Book in Chemistry 1400–1900 (New York, 1952).

Eduard Farber

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Zender, (Johannes Wolfgang) Hans

Zender, (Johannes Wolfgang) Hans (b Wiesbaden, 1936). Ger. conductor and composer. Ass. cond., Freiburg Opera 1959. Prin. cond., Bonn Opera 1964–8; gen. mus. dir. Kiel 1969–71; prin. cond. Saar Radio SO 1971–84. Salzburg Fest. Début 1983. Gen. mus.-dir. Hamburg Opera 1984–7. Cond. Netherlands Radio Chamber Orch. from 1987. Cond. at Bayreuth 1975. London Début 1977. Comps. incl. opera Stephen Climax (1986); Zeitströme (Time Stream) (1974); Cantos I–V, vv., instr.; elec. works.

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"Zender, (Johannes Wolfgang) Hans." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Zender, (Johannes Wolfgang) Hans." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zender-johannes-wolfgang-hans

Döbereiner, Johann Wolfgang

Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner (yō´hän vôlf´gäng dö´bərīnər), 1780–1849, German chemist. From 1810 he was professor of the Univ. of Jena. He is known especially for his discovery of similar triads of elements, a step in the development of the periodic law. He discovered furfural, worked on the use of platinum as a catalyst, and invented a lighter (known as Döbereiner's lamp) that is ignited by the action of hydrogen on a platinum sponge.

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