Beckmann, Ernest Otto

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Beckmann, Ernest Otto

(b solingen, Germany 4 July 1853; d. Berlin, Germany, 12 July 1923)


Beckmann’s ancestors were originally from Hannover and settled as farmers near Solingen. His father, Johannes Friedrich Wilhelm, established a small dye and emery works in Solingen and in 1814 independently discovered Paris green. His mother, Julie, was the daughter of a tanner. After five years of laboratory activity, including a year with Remigius Fresenius in Wiesbaden, Beckmann entered the University of Leipzig in 1875 and completed his degree in 1878 under Hermann Kolbe and Ernest S. C. Meyer. He then became an assistant to the toxicologist Robert Otto at the Technische Hochschule in Brunswick. In 1883 he returned to Leipzig, where he studied briefly with Kolbe and Johannes Wislicenus, and, after 1887, with Wilhelm Ostwald. In 1891 he became an extraordinary professor at Giessen, and from 1892 to 1897 was ordinary professor at Erlangen. In 1897, as ordinary professor, he organized the applied chemistry laboratory at Leipzig. After refusing offers from Munich and Berlin, in 1912 he became director of the newly founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Applied and Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Here, except for the war years, when the institute was concerned with military work, he continued his research.

By gentle oxidation methods Beckmann was able to produce menthone and thymol and from early investigations on the oximes of menthone he was led to consider the nature of isonitroso compounds. In 1886 during this study he obtained a rapid reaction now known as the Beckmann transformation, in which ketoximes are converted into amides by the action of acids, acid chlorides, or phosphorous pentachloride. It was believed that this reaction could establish the sys-isomeric form of the original ketoxime until Meisenheimer showed in 1921 that it was not the syn but the anti form which underwent intermolecular arrangement. The exact mechanism of this reaction has had considerable theoretical interest for chemists and drew attention to isomerism in nitrogen bonding. Beckmann’s work on isomerism of benzoldoxime contributed to an understanding of the valence properties of nitrogen. Interest in the physical properties of oximes led Beckmann to develop a thermometer in which it is possible to vary the amount of mercury in the bulb and thereby change the range of the thermometer. The Beckmann thermometer is a practical device for determining molecular weight based on the theoretical work of Raoult on the freezing point depression and boiling point elevation of solutions. Beckmann also identified SCI4, and investigated the properties of furfurol.


I. Original Wors, Beckmann’s writings include “Zur Kenntneiss der Isonitrosovebindungen,” in Berichte der Dutshen chemischen Gesellschaft, 19 (1886), 988–993; 20 (1887) 1507–1510, 2580–2585, 2766–2768; 21 (1888), 766–769; “Ueber die Methode der Molckular-gewichtsbestimmung durch Gefrierpunktserniedrigung,” in Zeitschrift für physikaliosche Chemie, 2 (1888), 638–645, 715–743; “Ueber die Bestimmung von Molekulargewichten aus Siedepunktserhöhungen,” ibid., 3 (1889), 603–604; “Zur Isomerie der Oximidoverbindungen. Isomere monosubstitutirte Hydroxylamine.” in Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschcft, 22 (1889), 429–440, 514–517; “Untersuchungen in der Campherreihe. Erste Abhandlung,” in Annalen der Chemie, no. 250 (1889), 322–375; Das Laboratorium für angewandte Chemie der Universität Leipzig (Leipzig, 1908): and “Ueber die verbindung des Schwefels mit Chlor,” in Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie, 55 (1923), 81–82; 61 (1928), 87–130, written with T. Klopfer and F. Junker.

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Beckmann are G. Lockemann, “Ernst Beckmann, zum siebzigsten Geburtstage am 4 . Juli 1923,” in Zeitschrift für angrewandte chemie. 26 (1923). 341–344, and Ernst Beckamnn, Sein Leben und Werken (Berlin, 1927); O. Ostwald, “Ernst Beckmann’s Anfange als Physico-Chemiker,” in Zeitschriftfür angewandte Chemie, 26 (1923), 344; C. Paal. “Nachruf auf Ernest Otto Beckmann,” in Bericht über die Verhand-lungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, 76 (1924), 83–94; W. Schenk. “Gedachtnisrede.” in Sitzungsberichte der Deutschen Akademie der Wissen-schaften zu Berlin, Kl. Phil-hist., 104 (1924); and Alfred Stock, “Forschungsinstitut,” in Zeitschrifi für angewandte Chemie, 26 (1923), 344–345.

Ruth Anne Gienapp

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Beckmann, Ernest Otto

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