Serullas, Georges-Simon

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(b. Poncin, Ain, France, 21 November 1774; d. Paris, France, 25 May 1832)

chemistry, pharmacy.

Serullas was the son of a notary and seemed destined to follow his father’s profession. After doing well in his early studies, however, he enrolled in a pharmacy course in 1793 and became a military pharmacist. During a campaign in the Alps he learned botany, physics, and chemistry. He spent several years in Italy, where, following the European blockade, he was put in charge of preparing a huge amount of grape syrup as a sugar substitute for consumption in the military hospitals. He was chief pharmacist under the command of Ney throughout the Italian, German, and Russian campaigns.

After the siege of Torgau, where he lived for a time, Serullas became chief pharmacist as well as the first professor of pharmacy at the military hospital in Metz. From then on, he devoted himself to intellectual pursuits; for example, at the age of forty-two he began to study Greek and mathematics. In 1825 Serullas became chief pharmacist and professor at the Val de Grâce and was named of chemistry at the Jardin des Plantes. In 1829 he was elected a member of the Paris Academy, succeeding Vauquelin. He died of cholera, which he contracted at the funeral of Georges Cuvier.

Serullas’s earliest research, which involved sugar and sugar substitutes, was followed by investigations of alloys of sodium and potassium. He probably is best known, however, for his studies of iodine and bromine and their compounds. In 1823 he discovered iodoform (CHI3), which he called hydriodure de carbone. Serullas’s confusion, which reflects the state of organic chemistry of the period, is indicated by the fact that he called presumably the same compound protoiodure de carbone in 1823 and periodure de carbone in 1828. In 1824 he prepared cyanogen iodide (discovered by Humphry Davy in 1816) by a more efficient method.

His studies with bromine led to the preparation of ethyl bromide; cyanogen bromide; a selenium bromide; several compounds of bromine with arsenic, bismuth, and antimony; and an éther hydrobromique. Serullas found that the hydrocarbure de brome (bromoform) remains solid up to 7°C., a fact ignored during previous work. He also experimented with chlorine and in 1828 discovered cyanuric chloride. This work on halogen compounds led to the publication of the well-received book Sur quelques composés d’iode, tels que le chlorure d’iode, sur l’action mutuelle de l’acide iodique et de la morphine ou de ses sels, sur l’acide iodique cristallisé (1830), which became an important reference work in legal medicine. In 1827 he discovered cyanamide and cyanuric acid.His other investigation involved perchloric acid, phosphonium iodide (PH4I), and ether.


I. Original Works. J.R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, IV (London, 1964), 83–84, 89, 254, 325, 342, 349–350, 358, gives references to the papers describing most of Serullas’s studies that were published in the Annales de chimie or the Mémoires of the Paris Academy. In addition, the following early books and memoirs are significant: Mémoires pour le perfectionnement des moyens d’obtenir la matière sucrée des végétaux indigènes, 2 vols. (Paris, 1810–1813); Mémoire sur la conversion de la matière sucrèe en alcool (Paris, 1817); Sur les fumigations Chloriques (Paris, 1817),; Observations Physico-chimiques sur les alliages du potassium et du sodium avec d’ autres mètaux (Metz, 1821); Moyen d’enflammer la poudre sous I’ eau (Metz, 1822); and sur quelques composés d’iode ... (Paris, 1830).

II. Secondary Literature. A short, relatively accessible sketch of Serullas is in F. Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale, XLIII (1867), 802–803.. Longer obituary notices are Jean Antoine Lodibert, Ėloge historique de Serullas (Paris, 1837); and Julien Joseph Virey, Notice sur Serullas (Paris, 1832). Partington (see above) makes several references t Serullas’s investigations of organic halides in relation to the work of other French chemists.

Sheldon J. Kopperl