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Ether

Ether

Ether is a colorless, transparent, and very volatile (readily vaporizable) liquid. It has a characteristic odor and is highly flammable. Ether is used as a general anesthetic for surgery.

Ether (from the Latin "aether" and the Greek "eithr," or "the upper and purer air") is believed to have been first synthesized about 1540 by German botanist and chemist Valerius Cordus (1515-1544), who called his discovery "sweet oil of vitriol" and praised its medicinal properties. Paracelsus (1493-1541), a contemporary of Valerius, noted that the "oil" induced sleep in chickens when added to their feed. Frobenius (Froben) named the liquid "ethereal spirits" or "ether" in 1730.

History of Surgical Anesthesia

Only a few surgical procedures were available before the mid-1800s. Little was known about diseases or how to prevent infection. There was also no satisfactory anesthesia available to put the patient into a deep sleep and allow doctors to perform unhurried operative procedures. Certain means of reducing surgical pain had been available since ancient times, however. These included such drugs as alcohol, hashish, and opium derivatives.

Also available were rudimentary physical methods of producing analgesia (insensitivity to pain). These included packing a limb in ice or applying a tourniquet. Another technique used, although an extreme one, was to induce unconsciousness, either by inflicting a blow to the head or by strangulation. Most often, however, the patient was simply restrained by physical force, thus making surgery a last resort.

As more and more was learned about anatomy and surgical procedures, the need to find safe methods to prevent pain became more urgent. With the advent of professional dentistry, this need became even more urgent because of the sensitivity of the mouth and gums. Indeed, dentists were largely responsible for the introduction of both nitrous oxide and diethyl ether.

Nitrous Oxide and Anesthesia

In 1772 the English chemist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) discovered nitrous oxide gas. Soon people, especially medical students, began to whiff this "laughing gas" at "revels" for social amusement and for the euphoria ("high") it produced. Ether "frolics," in which participants inhaled ether, also became popular in the United States.

Dr. Crawford W. Long (1815-1878) of Georgia may have been the first person to apply his social experiences with ether to surgery. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Crawford is said to have observed a participant at a frolic take a heavy fall but show no indication of pain. In 1842 Long performed three minor surgeries using sulfuric ether, a form of ether with chemical properties similar to those of diethyl ether. Long apparently did not realize the medical significance of what he had done and failed to publicize his discovery. He published his results only after anesthesia had been hailed as a major breakthrough.

Attention next returned to nitrous oxide. Horace Wells (1815-1848), a Hartford, Connecticut, dentist, learned about the effects of nitrous oxide in 1844. He decided to test the gas by having one of his own teeth removed while under the influence of the gas. He was delighted with the results and soon began using the gas on his patients. He also told his friend and former partner, William T. G. Morton (1819-1868), a student at Harvard Medical School, about his discovery.

Morton was interested in the possibilities of anesthesia but began to look for a more potent agent than nitrous oxide. He began experimenting with sulfuric ether. Pleased with the results in his dental practice, he contacted Dr. John C. Warren (1778-1856) of Harvard University in 1946 and arranged for a public demonstration of surgery without pain. News of this event spread rapidly, and a new era for surgery began. Oliver Wendell Holmes later coined the term anesthesia to describe the condition brought on by ether.

The knowledge of ether as an anesthetic spread rapidly. The medical establishment and the public quickly and gratefully accepted the use of ether inhalation for painless surgery. Within months, surgery using ether anesthesia was being performed in England. In Germany Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach (1795-1847), a pioneer in plastic surgery, wrote: "The wonderful dream that pain has been taken away from us has become reality. Pain, the highest consciousness of our earthly existence, the most distinct sensation of the imperfection of our body, must now bow before the power of the human mind, before the power of ether vapor."

Other advances in anesthesia soon followed. In 1847 Russian Nicolai Ivanovich Pirogoff (1810-1881) devised a method of administering ether vapor via the rectum. Marc Dupuy investigated the same technique that year in Paris, France. In 1915 American surgeon George Crile began combining local anesthetics with ether inhalation to block pain impulses more completely.

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Ether

Ether

Late nineteenth-century hypothesis suggested by physicists as a means of accounting for the propagation of light as a wave motion through otherwise empty space. The idea of ether meshed with the teachings of the mesmerists and Theosophists, who spoke of subtle substructures of matter sometimes referred to as koilon all-pervading, filling all space, and interpenetrating all matter. Ether was supposedly of very great density, 10,000 times more dense than water and with a pressure of 750 tons per square inch.

According to Theosophical teaching, ether was said to be capable of being perceived only by clairvoyants with the most highly developed powers. It was said to be filled with an infinitude of small bubbles, much like the air bubbles in treacle or some other viscid substance. The bubbles were supposedly formed at some ancient time by the infusion of the breath of the Logos into the ether. Of these bubblesnot of the ether matter was said to be built, its density varying with the number of bubbles combined to form each objects.

Ether became the subject of one of the more famous experiments in physics, by Albert Abraham Michelson and E. W. Morley. Their experiment involved the splitting and reintegration of a light wave in such a manner that the presence of ether would slow one of the waves. They disproved the existence of ether and brought America its first Nobel Prize for physics. The experiment also contributed to the development of Einstein's theory of relativity. The abandonment of ether by science led to its eventual abandonment by Spiritualists and Theosophists.

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ether (in chemistry)

ether, any of a number of organic compounds whose molecules contain two hydrocarbon groups joined by single bonds to an oxygen atom. The most common of these compounds is ethyl ether, CH3CH2OCH2CH3, often called simply ether, a colorless, volatile liquid with a distinctive odor; its IUPAC name is ethoxyethane. Ethyl ether boils at 34.5°C and is extremely flammable. It is insoluble in water but mixes with many organic solvents and is widely used as a solvent itself, e.g., for fats and oils. Its most familiar historical application is as an anesthetic. An ether such as ethyl ether in which both hydrocarbon groups are identical is said to be a simple, or symmetrical, ether. An ether in which the two groups differ (e.g., methyl ethyl ether, CH3OCH2CH3) is said to be a mixed, or unsymmetrical, ether. Ethers are often prepared commercially by heating an alcohol with sulfuric acid; the reaction is one of dehydration. In the laboratory ethers are often prepared by reaction of an alkyl halide with a sodium alkoxide (a method called the Williamson synthesis). Ethers are usually chemically unreactive but can be cleaved (broken apart) at high temperatures by concentrated hydrogen halides; initially an alkyl halide and an alcohol are formed. Epoxides are a special class of cyclic ethers.

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ether

e·ther / ˈē[unvoicedth]ər/ • n. 1. Chem. a pleasant-smelling, highly flammable, colorless, volatile liquid, C2H5OC2H5, used as an anesthetic and as a solvent or intermediate in industrial processes. ∎  any organic compound with a similar structure to this, having an oxygen atom linking two alkyl or other organic groups. 2. chiefly poetic/lit. the clear sky; the upper regions of air beyond the clouds. 3. Physics, archaic a very rarefied and highly elastic substance formerly believed to permeate all space and to be the medium whose vibrations constituted light and other electromagnetic radiation. DERIVATIVES: e·ther·ic / iˈ[unvoicedth]erik; iˈ[unvoicedth]i(ə)rik/ adj.

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ether

ether clear sky; (phys.) substance permeating space XVII; (chem.) liquid obtained by the action of acid on alcohol XVIII. — (O)F. éther or L. æthēr — Gr. aithḗr upper air, f. base of aĩthein kindle, burn, shine, aĩthrā fine weather, L. æstās summer, OIr. aed fire.
So etherial of the ether; heavenly; airy XVI; impalpable XVII; pert. to ether XVIII. f. L. ætherius — Gr. aithérios. Hence etherialize XIX.

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ether

ether (diethyl ether) Colourless volatile inflammable liquid (C2H5OC2H5) prepared by the action of sulphuric acid on ethanol followed by distillation. It is used as an industrial solvent, fuel additive and decreasingly as an anaesthetic. Diethyl ether is a typical member of the ethers with the general formula ROR′, where R, R′ are hydrocarbon radicals. Properties: m.p. −116.2°C (−117.2°F); b.p. 34.5°C (94.1°F).

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ether

ether In physics, hypothetical medium that was supposed to fill all space and offer no resistance to motion. It was postulated as a medium to support the propagation of electromagnetic radiations, but was disproved.

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ether

ether (ee-ther) n. a volatile liquid formerly used as an anaesthetic administered by inhalation.

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Ether

Ether See Ethernet.

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ether

ether •Cather • naphtha •anther, panther, Samantha •Arthur, MacArthur, Martha •ether, Ibiza •Tabitha • Hiawatha • author • Gotha •Luther • Gunther • Agatha • Golgotha •Bertha, Jugurtha

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