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Marchlewski, Leon Paweł Teodor


(b. Włocławek, Poland, 15 December 1869; d. Cracow, Poland, 16 January 1946)


Marchlewski was the son of Józef Marchlewski, a grain merchant, and Augusta Riksreerend. Having finished his secondary education in Warsaw, he worked there for a year in a chemistry laboratory of the Museum of Agriculture and Industry; then, in 1888, enrolled in the Polytechnical School in Zurich. From 1890 until 1892, the year in which he received the doctorate from the University of Zurich, Marchlewski served as an assistant to Georg Lunge. While working with Lunge he published his first scientific papers; these were largely analytical and technological in nature, and were concerned with inorganic chemistry, the determination of iodine and sulfur in compounds, and the gas-volumetric determination of carbon dioxide. He also drew up tables of the density of hydrochloric and nitric acids that continue to be consulted.

From 1892 until 1898, Marchlewski worked in England in the private labortory of Edward Schunck ar kersal, near Manchester. Schunck had been Liebig’s pupil, and his own area of research was plant pigments. With him, Marchlewski published papers on natural glucosides, including arbutin, phlorizin, and datiscin. Marchlewski offered a new interpretation of the structure of these compounds, which brought him into conflict with E. Fischer; Marchlewski was eventually proved to be right. He also explained the structure of rubiadin and of indican, a compound which had been discovered by Suhunck and which Marchlewski showed to be a glucoside of investigation of plant pigments, including isatin and chlorophyll and its derivatives, a subject upon which he first reported in a paper written with Schunk in 1897.

In 1898 Marchlewski became director of the research laboratory attached to the Claus and Ree factory at Clayton. He was at the same time a lecturer in teachnology at the Institute of Science and Technology in Manchester. During his stay in England he married Fanny Hargreaves; they had three sons. In 1900 Marchlewski returned with his family to Poland, where he had been appointed to the Food Examination Research Institute in Cracow. He became lecturer in chemical technology at Jagiellonian University there in the same year.

Marchlewski again took up the studies of chlorophyll that had begun in England. He had already experimentally obtained phylloporphyrin and compared its absorption spectra with those of hematoporphyrin, concluding that the two compounds are closely related, as are chlorophyll and hemoglobin. In Cracow, he obtained phyllocyanin from chlorophyll; he then demonstrated that hemopyrrole could be derived from this compound as well as from hemin. He further obtained phyllophylin, a substance similar to hemin itself, from phylloporphyrin and ferrous salts. Marchlewski published the results of some of these researches with Nencki. His own monograph Die Chemie der Chlorophylle, published in 1903, established his authority in this field.

In 1904 Marchlewski declined the offer of a chair of chemistry at the University of Lvov; two years later, he was appointed professor of medical chemistry at Jagiellonian University. He had by then published eighty-four papers—almost half of his life’s work—in chemical journals. He received another appointment almost immediately, and left Cracow to become director of the Research Institute in Pulawy, where he remained until 1923. He then returned to occupy the chair of medical chemistry at Jagiellonian University, where he remained (except for an interruption during World War II) for the rest of his life. He twice served the university as dean of the medical faculty, and was rector of it in 1932.

Marchlewski’s work on chlorophyll involved him in a series of controversies with the German chemist Willstätter. Although Marchlewski was not always correct (it is difficult, for example, to understand how he, an outstanding analyst, could have overlooked the presence of magnesium in chlorophyll), the debates themselves contributed to the growth of chlorophyll research. Marchlewski was also highly critical of the work of the botanist Tsvet, who had devised a technique for separating chlorophyll into its component parts by dissolving it in alcohol, then passing it through a column filled with calcium carbonate, sugar, and inulin. Marchlewski considered Tsvet to be ignorant of chemistry, and Tsvet, as a direct result of Marchlewski’s criticism, suspended his researches. Marchlewski fully understood Tsvet’s method a few years later, and greatly regretted his interference.

Marchlewki’s last important achievement was the discovery of phylloerythrin, a compound that results from the breakdown of chlorophyll during digestion by herbivores. In his last years he devoted himself exclusively to spectral analysis, which he saw as the chief means toward explaining the structure of organic compounds.


I. Original Works. Marchlewski wrote 201 papers, of which a complete list is given by his student H. Malarski, “Leon Marchlewski. 1869–1946,” in Pamįetnik pańnstwowego naukowego instytutu gospodarstwa wiejskiego, 18E (1948), 1–27. His most important books are Die Chemieder Chlorophylle (Brunswick, 1903); Teorye i metody badania wspólczensej chemii organicznej (“Theories and Methods of Contemporary Organic Chemistry” Lvov, 1905); Chemia organiczan (“Organic Chemistry” Cracow, 1910; repr. 1924); and Podręcznik do badan fizjologiczno-chemicznych (“Handbook of Physiological and Chemical Research”; Cracow, 1916). Marchlewski’s personal acta are preserved in the archives of Jagiellonian University,Cracow, S. II, 619;some of his letters may be found in the archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Cracow, the Jagiellonian Library, and the Ossolineum, Wroclaw.

II. Second Literature. See A. Gałecki, “Udzial Polaków w uprawianiu i rozwoju chemii” (“Poles Who Participated in the Development of Chemistry”), in Polska w kulturze powszechnej, II (Cracow, 1918), 336–337; W. Lampe, “Śp. Leon Marchlewski,” in Rocznik towerzystwa naukowego Warszawskiego, 39 (1946), 131–134; and B. Skarzyński, “Leno Marchlewski” in Roczniki Chemii, 22 (1948), 1–18, repr. in Polscy badacze przyrody (Warsaw, 1959), 289–312. On Marchlewski’s controversy with Tsvet, see T. Robinson, “Michael Tswett,” in Chymia, 6 (1960), 146–161.

Włodzimierz Hubicki

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