Fuchs, Johann Nepomuk von

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Fuchs, Johann Nepomuk von

(b. Mattenzell, Bavaria, Germany, 15 May 1774; d. Munich, Germany, 5 March 1856)

Chemistry, mineralogy.

Fuchs, the son of poor peasants, proved such an outstanding student in the convent school that he was sent on to the Gymnasium. Patrons enabled him to study medicine in Vienna. He graduated from the University of Heidelberg and passed the examinations for the physician’s license in Munich. Under the influence of Jacquin, Fuchs became interested in chemistry and mineralogy. The Bavarian state, which was engaging chemists in the hope of promoting the chemical industry and of reviving interest in the University of Landshut, sent Fuchs on a fact-finding trip. He visited the Bergakademie in Freiburg and traveled to Berlin and Paris. he met with W. A. Lampadius, A. G. Werner, C. S. Weiss, Klaproth, V. Rose (the younger), Guyton de Morveau, Fourcroy, Berthollet, Vauquelin, and Hauy and widened his knowledge in the course of several mineralogical and geological field trips. Upon his return to Bavaria, he passed an examination before a commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences resulting in his appointment, in the fall of 1805, as lecturer at the University of Landshut; he received a full professorship in May 1807. In 1810 Fuchs married the daughter of a wealthy taverner named Fahrenbacher. In the fall of 1823 Fuchs went to Munich as a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and curator of the state mineralogical collection. Following the transfer of the Ludwig-Maximilian University from Landshut to Munich in 1826, Fuchs rejoined its faculty as professor of mineralogy. From 1833 on, he served as chemist on the Obermedizinalausschuss and the Supreme School Board. In 1835 he was appointed Oberberg- und Salinenrat and served as president of the Polytechnischer Verein für das Königreich Bayern.

A devout Catholic, Fuchs was thrifty, kind, and helpful and abhorred scientific arguments. Although he had to regulate his living habits strictly after contracting a lung disease in 1805, he was able to carry on his scientific work until the age of eighty-two.

Fuchs was the first titular professor of chemistry at the Ludwig-Maximilian University, where chemistry was still considered a primitive empirical science even though its role as an auxiliary science in medicine, pharmacy, and economics was not to be gainsaid. Together with Stromeyer and Döbereiner, Fuchs was one of the first in Germany to introduce practical laboratory instruction at the university level. Under his guidance, advanced students were required to carry out mineral analyses.

Fuchs became, by royal appointment, a consultant to bleaching and dyeing enterprises, breweries, distillers, starch manufacturers, paper mills, and tobacco processors. He also introduced beet-sugar refining in Bavaria.

Fuch’s scientific work was directed mainly toward the practical and empirical. He improved the spirit lamp—important for the laboratory—and the soldering iron and developed a rapid beer-testing process, the hallymetric beer test. He was the first to produce water glass and tested its use in fire protection and as varnish. In the course of research on lime, mortar, and cement, he became the first to present a clear, scientific exposition of the process of hydraulic cement setting.

Fuchs continuously stressed the importance of chemistry in the study of mineralogy. By means of a great number of analyses he was able to determine the composition of many minerals and mineral waters used for medicinal purposes.

At a time when chemical formulas, quantitative analysis, and the theory of the atom were just beginning to become common knowledge, Fuchs endeavored to solve the mystery of the structure of minerals. He confirmed the stoichiometric laws, observed isomorphism—which he called Varikierung (“variation”)—and the cation exchange of zeolites. Opal, quartz, diamond, and soot served as objects of study in his determination of the difference between crystalline and amorphous structures.


I. Original Works. Fuch’s writings are collected in Gesammelte Schriften des Johann Nep. von Fuchs, edited and with an obituary by Cajetan Georg Kaiser (Munich, 1856). His Naturgeschichte des Mineralreichs was published as vol. III of Handbuch der Naturgeschichte, Johann Andreas Wagner, ed. (Kempten, Bavaria, 1842).

II. Secondary Literature. On Fuchs and his work, see Franz von Kobell, Denkrede auf Johann Nepomuk von Fuchs vom 28. März 1856 (Munich, 1856); Wilhelm Prandtl, “Johann Nepomuk Fuchs,” Ralph E. Oesper, trans., in Journal of Chemical Education, 28 (1951), 136–142; and Friedrich Quietmeyer, Zur Geschichte der Erfindung des Portlandzementes (Berlin, 1912), pp. 88–92.

Eberhard Schmauderer