Rammelsberg, Karl (or Carl) Friedrich

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(b. Berlin, Germany. 1 April 1813; d. Gross-Lichter-felde, near Berlin. 28 December 1899)


Rammelsberg was the son of a merchant. He was an apprentice in a pharmacy, first in Berlin and then in Dardcsheim, near Halberstadt, but soon turned to the study of chemistry at the University of Berlin under Mitscherlich and Heinrich Rose. He also devoted himself to related sciences, especially crystallography and mineralogy, under C. S. Weiss and Gustav Rose. His Latin doctoral dissertation, dealing with cyanides, was presented in 1837. In 1841 Rammelsberg became a Privatdozent in chemistry at the University of Berlin, in 1846 an associate professor, and in 1874 a full professor. He was also professor of chemistry at the Gewerbeakademie, the forerunner of the present Technical University of Berlin, but left that position in 1883 to become the director of the ’second chemical laboratory” at the university.

During the early part of his career, Rammelsberg was a close friend of Heinrich and Gustav Rose. Both had been pupils of Berzelius, with whom Rammelsberg also formed a close association, translating one of Berzelius’ last papers at his request and publishing Berzelius’ neues chemisches Mineralsystem in 1847. In an address on the occasion of his election to the Berlin Academy of Sciences (1855), Rammelsberg referred to the need for specialization within the broad field of chemistry, saying he had selected mineral chemistry He emphasized that the methods of chemistry and mineralogy should be the same and that substance and form and the resulting physical properties should be studied in both.

Rammelsberg’s publications, including some twenty books, total about 430. The peak of his activity was reached in 1870, with the publication of twenty papers within a year. About 60 percent of Rammelsberg’s papers were concerned with the chemical compositions, crystal forms, and physical properties of minerals. He made and published a staggering number of mineral analyses, worked on rock and meteorite analyses, improved analytical methods, synthesized new compounds, and wrote many papers discussing the analytical results of other scientists.

Rammelsberg was greatly interested in making known in Germany the results of foreign work in mineral chemistry and related fields. To this end he published many discussions of foreign work and translations of French. Italian, and Swedish papers. Thus he helped especially to spread the influence of St. Claire-Deville and others of the French school of chemical mineralogy of the middle of the century. One of his earliest works was a translation of Jean-Baptiste Dumas’s Leçons sur la philosophic chimique.

Rammelsberg established the first university laboratory for the teaching of chemistry in Prussia and produced textbooks on stoichiometry, inorganic chemistry, qualitative and quantitative analysis, and crystallography for chemists. Most of these went through several editions, and one was translated into English as Guide to a Course of Quantitative Chemical Analysis … (Geneva, N.Y., 1871).

Rammelsberg’s most important works were comprehensive compilations on mineral chemistry and on chemical crystallography. Each went through two editions, and at the end of the nineteenth century the new editions were the most important works in their respective fields. The Handbuch der Mineralehemie, a single-handed effort, was the forerunner of the compilation with the same title edited by C. A. Doelter with many co-workers (1912–1931), a fact acknowledged by Doelter in his introduction. Similarly, the Handbuch der krystallographisch-physikalischen Chemie may be considered a forerunner of Groth’s five-volume Chemische Krystallographie (1906 1919), also the work of one man. Groth, however, made no reference to Rammelsberg in his introduction. This may possibly be ascribed to the fact that Rammelsberg continued to use the antiquated symbolism and classification of Weiss, whose great contributions belong in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Although he produced crystallographic data throughout his career and made the most comprehensive compilations of such data, Rammelsberg appears to have ignored most of the progress of crystallography during the last sixty years of his life.


I. Original Works. Some of Rammelsberg’s most important works are J. J. Berzelius’ neues chemisettes Mineralsystem nebst einer Zusammenstellung seiner älteren hierauf beziiglichen Arbeiten (Nuremberg, 1847); “Antritts-rede,” in Monatsbericht der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1856), 373–375, a short address given at the time of Rammelsberg’s election to the Academy; “Die Fortschritte der Mineralchemie, wie sie seit ftinfzig Jahren aus Poggendorff’s Annalen sich ergeben,” in Poggendorff’s Annalen, Jubelband (1874), 381–407, a summary of the progress of mineral chemistry as shown in the first 150 vols, of the Annalen; Handhuch der Mineralchemie, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1875), plus 2 supp. vols. (Leipzig, 1886, 1895); and Handbueh der krystatlographisch-physikalischen Chemie, 2 vols. (Leipzig. 1881–1882).

II. Secondary Literature. Max Bauer, “Karl Friedrich Rammelsberg,” in Ceiuralblatt für Mineralogie (1900), 221–233, 319–329, 342–357, with portrait, a biography by one of his more distinguished pupils, is the most comprehensive account of Rammelsberg’s life and work and includes a bibliography of 308 items deemed by Bauer to be of mineralogical interest. G. Wyrouboff, “Notice nécrologique de M. Rammelsberg.” in Bulletin de la Sociétée française de minéralogie, 24 (1901), 280–306, is a brief note followed by the most nearly complete list, 419 items, of Rammelsberg’s works. Strangely, among the omissions is the translation of Dumas’s 1837 Leçons Die Philosophic der Chemie (Berlin, 1839).

A. Pabst

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