Fischer, Nicolaus Wolfgang

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Fischer, Nicolaus Wolfgang

(b. GrossMeseritz, Bohemia [now Mezirici Velké, Czechoslovakia], 15 January 1782; d. Breslau, Germany [now Wroclaw, Poland], 19 August 1850), chemistry.

Very little is known about Fischer’s life. He studied medicine in Erfurt and practiced in Breslau, where he also gave lectures at the school of surgery. After the founding of the University of Breslau in 1811, he qualified there as Privatdozent. In 1815 the first chair in chemistry was established at the university, and Fischer was appointed to it. He held this position until his death.

In approximately sixty articles published in contemporary German journals, Fischer presented the results of his diversified chemical and medical research. Many of his investigations are of lasting importance.

At first he reported on the triple salt K3 Co(NO2)6, which entered inorganic chemistry as “Fischer’s salt.” He employed this salt in the analytical separation of nickel from cobalt.

He appears to have been one of the first to observe the semipermeability of animal bladders in solutions and pure water; moreover, he undertook osmotic investigations and hence observed endosmosis. He gave an account of this research in a heterogeneous article in the part entitled “Über die Eigenschaft der thierischen Blase, Flüssigkeiten durch sich hindurch zu lassen.”

Fischer took a great interest in electrochemical phenomena. He investigated the electrochemical reducibility of metals in galvanic cells with the goal of finding the relationship between chemical affinity and galvanism. For this purpose he constructed various cells and observed the so-called galvanoplastic phenomenon (i.e., electroplating), which later, through other researchers, led to the elaboration of technical electroplating.

Fischer made a galvanic cell consisting of silver and zinc electrodes. The former was immersed in dilute sulfuric acid and the latter in moist silver chloride, which he contained in bladders. He thus obtained a voltaic pile which delivered a more or less constant electric current (1812). He therefore belongs among the pioneers in the construction of voltaic cells.

Fischer also concerned himself with, among other things, the investigation of the sensitivity to light of silver chloride, methods for the legal and medical detection of arsenic, and the chemical reactions of the then comparatively new elements tellurium and selenium.


The article “Übar die Wiederherstellung eines Metals durch ein anderes und über die Eigenschaft der thierischen Blase, Flüssigkeiten durch sich hindurch zu lassen und sie in einigen Fällen anzuheben” appeared in Annalen der Physik, 12 (1822), 289–307. Poggendorff gives a fairly complete listing of Fischer’s articles; he wrote no books.

A biographical notice is J. Schiff, “N. W. Fischer, erster Chemie Professor der Universität Breslau,” in Archiv für die Geschichte Naturwissenchaften und der Technik, 8 (1917), 225, and 9 (1918), 29.

F. SzabadvÁry