Fordos, Mathurin-Joseph

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Fordos, Mathurin-Joseph

(b. Serent, France, 3 November 1816; d. Paris, France, 1 July 1878)


Fordos studied pharmacy in Paris, completed an internship in hospital pharmacy, and for the remainder of his professional career directed pharmacy services at three Paris municipal hospitals: Midi (1841–1842), Saint-Antoine (1842–1859), and Charité (1859–1878). A friendship with Amédée Gélis, a fellow pharmacy intern, led to many years of scientific collaboration. Fordos and Gélis were among a group of hospital pharmacy intern who in 1838 founded the Société d’Émulation pour les Sciences Pharmaceutiques, which for several decades provided an important scientific outlet for young pharmacy students serving internships in the Paris hospitals.

The bulk of Fordos’s scientific work was carried on jointly with Gélis, who later made a career in industrial chemistry. The two were especially successful in their investigation of inorganic sulfur compounds. In 1842 they published their discovery of sodium tetrathionate, and in 1850 they elucidated the composition of sulfur nitride.

Of the several investigations which Fordos pursued alone, the most important was his chemical isolation of a blue crystalline pigment from purulent bandages, which he called pyocyanine and which Carle Gessard showed in 1882 to be produced by Pseudomonas pyocyanea (Pseudomonas aeruginosa). Fordos’s procedure for obtaining pyocyanine and his description of its physical properties were published in 1860, and by 1863 he was able to perfect his method of extraction and obtain a much greater yield of this substance.

Noteworthy also was Fordos’s contribution to public health aspects of lead toxicity. From 1873 to 1875 he conducted experiments showing that drinking water passing through lead pipes, as well as liquids stored in tin-lead alloy utensils, would absorb toxic amounts of lead. His interest in this problem led him to devise and publish (1875) a rapid industrial process for detecting lead in pots and vessels lined with tin.


I. Original Works. Among Fordos’s most important publications dealing with inorganic compounds of sulfur, written jointly with Gélis, are the following; “Sur un nouvel oxacide du soufre,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances del’Académie des sciences, 15 (1842), 920–923; and “Sur le sulfure d’azote,” ibid., 31 (1850), 702–705. For Fordos’s isolation of pyocyanine, see “Recherches sur la matiere colorante des suppurations bleues: pyocyanine,” ibid., 51 (1860), 215–217; and “Recherches sur les matières colorantes des suppurations bleues; pyocyanine et pyoxanthose,” ibid., 56 (1863), 1128–1131.

Representative of Fordos’s papers on lead toxicity and the chemical detection of lead are “Action de l’eau aérée sur le plomb,” ibid., 77 (1873), 1099–1102; “Action de l’eau de Seine et de l’eau de l’Ourcq sur le plomb,” ibid., 1186- 1188; “Du rôle des sels dans l’action des eaux potables sur le plomb,” ibid., 78 (1874), 1108–1111; “De l’action des liquides alimentaires ou médicamenteux sur les vases en étain contenant du plomb,” ibid., 79 (1874), 678–680; “De l’essai des étamages contenant du plomb; procédé d’essai rapide,” ibid., 80 (1875), 794–796. A comprehensive listing of Fordos’s publications is given in Albert Goris et al., Centenaire de l’internat en pharmacie des hôpitaux et hospices civils de Paris (Paris, 1920), pp. 374–376.

II. Secondary Literature. See Albert Goris, op. cit., pp. 374, 805; and J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, IV (London-New York, 1964), 84, 391, 925.

Alex Berman