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Gautier, Armand E.-J.

Gautier, Armand E.-J.

(b. Narbonne, France, 23 September 1837; d. Cannes, France, 27 July 1920)


Gautier, the son of Louis Gautier, a physician and landowner, studied chemistry at Montpellier under J. E. Bérard (a former assistant to Berthollet) and J. A. Béchamp. In contrast with his teachers, he favored the use of atomic representations, rather than equivalents, in chemical notation. He especially supported the ideas of Charles Gerhardt, who had taught at Montpellier until 1851. After receiving a medical degree in 1862, Gautier left Montpellier for the Paris laboratory of Adolphe Wurtz. His isolation in 1866 of the isonitriles (isomers of the nitriles), or carbylamines, as he called them, was an important contribution to the new chemical theories.

Gautier prepared his carbylamines in a double decomposition reaction between silver cyanide and a simple or compound ether. Despite the penetrating odor of the carbylamines, their formation had escaped earlier workers on cyanohydric ethers, since cyanogen compounds were believed to be completely analogous to halogen compounds; the production of isomers in a simple reaction of the cyanogen radical was unimaginable. Influenced, however, by Wurtz’s researches on the “ammonia type,” Gautier demonstrated that the isonitriles existed and were indeed amines, whereas ordinary nitriles were more like salts. He noted that the cyanogen carbon atom in the carbylamine permits polymerization into explosives as well as a direct union with sulfur or oxygen. Gautier’s explanation illuminated analogous relations between the cyanic ethers and their isomers, and between the cyanates and fulminates. The use of silver cyanide with methyl or ethyl iodide to form the carbylamine suggested to Victor Meyer the reaction of these iodides with silver nitrate to produce nitrated aliphatics (nitromethane, nitroethane, etc.).

Gautier incorporated his researches on the carbylamines into his doctoral thesis (“Des nitriles des acides gras”) in 1869 and so impressed Henri Sainte-Claire Deville that the young chemist was quickly appointed to the chemical laboratory of the école Pratique des Hautes-Études. In 1874 Gautier became director of the new laboratory of biological medicine at the Faculté de Médecine, and in 1884 he succeeded Wurtz in the chair of medical chemistry, a post which he held until 1912.

Gautier’s researches in these years were prodigious. In 1873 he noticed the release of small quantities of volatile alkaloids during the bacterial fermentation of albuminous material. He demonstrated in 1882 that such alkaloids are constant products of the normal life of animal tissues and are eliminated from the healthy body in urine and saliva. He developed methods for the quantitative analysis of trace amounts of arsenic and demonstrated that such traces exist in healthy animals, especially in the skin. He further established the therapeutic value of arsenic compounds. Gautier analyzed iodine and free hydrogen in the air, iodine and fluorine in organic substances the coloring matter of grapes, the composition of mineral waters, and chemical reactions related to volcanic phenomena.

He published numerous textbooks, the most significant of which was the three-volume Cours de chimie minérale, organique et biologique (1887–1892).


I. Original Works. In addition to the Cours de chimie (2nd ed., 1895–1897; Vol. II, 3rd ed., 1906), Gautier’s texts include Chimie appliquée à la physiologie, à la pathologie, et à l’hygiene, 2 vols. (Paris, 1874),La chimie de la cellule vivante, 2 vols. (Paris, 1894–1898); and L’alimentation et les régimes chez l’homme sain et chez les malades (Paris,. 1904; 3rd ed., 1908). An almost complete bibliography of Gautier’s scientific and popular writings may be found in Lebon (see below).

II. Secondary Literature. Ernest Lebon’s biography, Armand Gautier, Biographie, bibliographic analytique des écrits (Paris, 1912), is the best single source of information about Gautier. An obituary notice in Nature (16 Sept. 1920), 85–86, is reprinted in Journal of the Chemical Society (London). 119 , pt. 1 (1921), 537–539, An éloge by Henri Deslandres, read at the Académie des Sciences (2 Aug. 1920), is reprinted in Revue scientique. 58 (1920), 471–472.

Mary Jo Nye

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