Jean Baptiste Joseph Dieudonne Boussingault

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Boussingault, Jean Baptiste Joseph Dieudonné

(b. Paris, France, 2 February 1802; d. Paris, 11 May 1887)

agricultural chemistry.

Boussingualt’s education, although not extensive, was influenced by Thénard, Gay-Lussac, Georges Cuvier, and Haüy; he also studied engineering. His South American geological and meteorological research in 1821–1832, recommended by Alexander von Humboldt, earned him recognition as a scientist and election to the Académie des Sciences in 1839.

From 1834 to 1876, Boussingault applied organic analysis in field and laboratory research on his farm at Bechelbronn, Alsace, to problems of soil fertility, crop rotation, plant and soil fixation of nitrogen, ammonia in rainwater, and nitrification, in order to determine the sources of plant nitrogen. From 1837 to 1854 he studied the proportions of organic materials that pass through plants and animals. In his 1837–1838 fixation experiments, he suggested that legumes may fix nitrogen from atmospheric sources. Between 1838 and 1841 Boussingault showed that legumes, when grown with cereals in initially exhausted soil, will restore to soil far more nitrogen than can be attributed to fertilizers; that both herbivores and carnivores obtain their nitrogen from plants; that the nitrogen of all plants, except in the case of legumes, may be accounted for by organic fertilizer; and that rainwater does not contain enough ammonia to satisfy the nitrogen needs of plants.

Because his 1854 fixation experiments, more strictly controlled, were largely negative, Boussingault turned to soil as the prime source of plant nitrogen. In 1855–1856 he showed that Helianthus plants grow to maturity in artificial, organic-free soil when watered with nitrates. In 1859 he demonstrated the spontaneous increase of nitrates in plant-free soil and the soil fixation of nitrogen, suggesting, even though temporarily, the action of microorganisms. From 1860 to 1876 he studied the chemistry of nitrification, identifying fertile soil as a prerequisite.

Boussegualt’s experiments on nitrogen fixation from 1834 to 1854 and his work on nitrification from 1855 to 1876 brought the problem of plant nitrogen essentially to the threshold of its modern microbiological formulation.


Among Boussingualt’s books are Économie rurale, 2 vols. (Paris, 1843–1844, 1851), also trans. into English, 1 vol. (New York-Philadelphia, 1845), German, 2 vols. (Halle, 1844–1845; 2nd ed. of Vols. I and II, 1851), and Italian, 2 vols. (Venice, 1850); Agronomie, chimie agricole et physiologie, 2nd ed., rev. and enl., 8 vols. (Paris, 1860–1891); and Mémoires de J.-B. Boussingualt, 5 vols. (Paris, 1892–1903), which deals with his life to 1832, particularly his South American sojourn.

His articles include “Recherches sur la quantité d’azote contenue dans les fourrages, et sur leur équivalens,” in Annales de chimie et de physique, 2nd ser., 63 (1836), 225–244, and 67 (1838), 408–421; “Recherches chimiques sur la végétation, entreprises dans le but d’examiner si les plantes prennent de l’azote à l’atmosphère,” ibid., 1–54, and 69 (1838), 353–367; “Sur la quantité d’ammoniaque contenue dans l’eau de pluie recueillie lion des villes,” in Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences, 37 (1853), 207–208, 798–806; “Mémoire sur le dosage de l’ammoniaque contenue dans les eaux,” in Journal de pharmacie et de chimie, 3rd ser., 25 (1854), 122–131; “Recherches sur la végétation. De l’action du salpêtre sur le dévelopment des plantes,” ibid., 46 (1856), 5–41; “De la terre végétale considérée dans ses effets sur la végétation,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, Section Botanique, 4th ser., 12 (1859), 354–372; “Observations relatives au développement des mycodermes,” in Annales de chimie et de physique, 3rd ser., 61 (1861), 363–367; “Sur la nitrification de la terre végétale,” ibid., 4th ser., 29 (1873), 186–206; and “Influence de la terre végétale sur la nitrification des matières organiques azotées employées comme engrais,” ibid., 5th ser., 8 (1876), 1–24.

Publications about Boussingualt are M. Lenglen, Un aspect peu connu de J.-B. Boussingault à la Société Centrale d’Agriculture, 1842–1887 (Beauvais, 1937); and George R. Cowgill, “Jean Baptiste Boussingault,” in Journal of Nutrition, 84 , no. 1 (Sept. 1964), 1–9.

Richard P. Aulie

views updated

Boussingault, Jean Baptiste Joseph Dieudonné (1802–1887) French chemist; one of the founders of scientific agriculture; demonstrated the use of atmospheric nitrogen by legumes but not cereals. He performed the first metabolic balance studies; in 1831 recommended iodization of salt for prevention of goitre.