Frankland, Percy Faraday

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Frankland, Percy Faraday

(b. London, England, 3 October 1858; d. House of Letterawe, on Loch Awe, Argyllshire, Scotland, 28 October 1946)

Chemistry, bacteriology

Frankland was the second son of Edward Frankland, professor of chemistry at the Royal School of Mines in London. His middle name was given in honor of the eminent chemist Michael Faraday, who was his godfather. After studying at University College School in London from 1869 to 1874, Frankland entered the Royal School of Mines in 1875. His teachers there included his father and Thomas Henry Huxley. In 1877 he won a Brackenbury scholarship at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, but his father dissuaded him from a medical career and induced him to take up chemistry instead. From 1878 to 1880 he studied organic chemistry under Wislicenus at the University of Würzburg, taking his Ph.D. summa cum laude in the latter year. He was then appointed demonstrator under his father at South Kensington, where the Royal School of Mines had been transferred and its name changed to the Normal School of science. He took his B.Sc. in 1881 from the University of London, which was then merely an examining and degree-granting body.

Frankland was professor of chemistry at University College, Dundee, from 1888 to 1894 and at Mason Science College (later the University of Birmingham) from 1894 to 1919. At the latter institution he also served as dean of the Faculty of Science from 1913 until his retirement. He was president of the Institute of Chemistry from 1906 to 1909 and of the Chemical Society in 1912 and 1913. During World War I, Frankland worked with the Chemical Warfare Committee on synthetic drugs, explosives, and mustard gas. These efforts led to his being named C.B.E. in 1920. Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1891, Frankland was awarded its Davy Medal in 1919. He was also awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of St. Andrews (1902), Dublin (1912), Birmingham (1924), and Sheffield (1926). Following his death a memorial lecture was established in his name at the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

Frankland’s wife, Grace Coleridge Toynbee, whom he married in 1882, was the youngest daughter of Joseph Toynbee, the pioneer ear specialist. She was herself a research bacteriologist and frequently contributed to her husband’s scientific work. Her death preceded his by a few weeks. They left a son, Edward.

Frankland’s early research work seems to have been strongly influenced by his father. In the early 1880’s he undertook a systematic study of the coal gas supplied to consumers in the larger British towns, thus following a path his father had trod thirty years before. Comparing his results with his father’s, Frankland noted that the nitrogen content had increased because of a change in the methods of combustion. This study led to the publication of a series of five papers on the illuminating power of various hydrocarbons.

Frankland’s interest in water analysis probably also derived originally from his father, who had concentrated on the purely chemical aspects of water analysis; Frankland was also attracted to its biological or bacteriological aspects. From 1885 to 1895 much of his research had as its goal the elucidation of the chemical reactions taking place in the presence of fermentative bacteria, and especially the development of effective methods for analyzing and preventing the bacterial contamination of water supplies. Largely as a result of his efforts, a monthly bacteriological examination of London’s water supplies was inaugurated in 1885. He tested the efficacy of such materials as coke and greensand as agents for filtering bacteria from water and studied alterations in the viability and virulence of the anthrax and typhoid bacilli in drinking water. From 1892 to 1895 Frankland was coauthor, with Harry Marshall Ward, of four experimentally based reports to the Water Research Committee of the Royal Society. He also acted as private consultant to many of the largest water companies in Great Britain. His experience in original research added to the authority of his book, written with his wife, Micro-organisms in Water: Their Sig nificance, Identification and Removal (London, 1894). Frankland also wrote a more popular book on bacteriology, Our Secret Friends and Foes (London, 1893), which went through four editions by 1899.

Most of theu rest of Frankland’s research concerned the stereochemistry of optically active substances. His interest in this topic was first aroused while he was working on his Ph.D. under Wislicenus, and it ultimately became his major preoccupation. By carrying out an exhaustive study of the rotatory effects of a large number of molecular groups, Frankland developed valuable methods for testing the quantitative relationship between molecular structure and degree of optical activity. Although he thought he had uncovered a few regularities, he admitted that his research had not produced any broad generalizations. His work showed mainly that the relationship between structure and optical activity was too complex to be explained by existing theories. No great original contributions resulted from his bacteriological work either.

In his scientific interests and approach Frankland recognized a kinship between himself and Louis Pasteur. With his wife he wrote an admirable biography bearing the simple title Pasteur (London, 1898), to which William Bulloch frequently referred in his History of Bacteriology (London, 1938). A leading advocate of original research by students, Frankland was considered an inspiring, if rather stern and demanding, teacher.


I. Original Works. Besides the books mentioned in the text, Frankland published well over 100 papers, several of which cover much the same ground and many of which were written in collaboration with his students and colleagues. Most of his early papers appeared in the Journal of the Chemical Society (London). A complete bibliography of his works published before 1900 may be found in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific papers, IX (1891), 919; and XV (1916), 101–103, The most important of these and of his later papers are cited by Garner in the longer of his two biographical sketches of Frankland.

II.Secondary Liteerature. See W. E. Garner, “Frankland, percy Faraday,” in Dictionary of National Biography (1941–1950), pp. 270–271; and” Percy Faraday Frankland,” in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 5, no. 16 (1947), 697–715. The latter notice contains a bibliography of ninety-one “main publications” by Frankland between 1880 and 1927, as well as a detailed account of Frankland’s research work, especially that on stereochemistery

Gerald L. Geison

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