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Frederic Stanley Kipping

Frederic Stanley Kipping


English Chemist

Frederic Stanley Kipping is best known for his pioneering work on the organic chemistry of silicon. Kipping's success in the preparation of silicone in 1904 led to 40 years of work at the fascinating frontier between organic and inorganic chemistry. This work provided the basis for the development of silicone compounds that fulfill a wide variety of industrial applications.

Kipping was one of seven children born into the family of a Manchester bank official. After attending Manchester Grammar School, he enrolled in Owens College, Manchester (now Manchester University) in 1879. He received a London University external degree in 1882 and took a position as a chemist for the Manchester Gas Department. He went to Munich in 1886 to work with William Henry Perkin, Jr. (1860-1929), who was known for his studies of the structure and synthesis of natural products. This work was carried out in the laboratory of the eminent organic chemist Johann Friedrich Adolf von Baeyer (1835-1917).

When he completed his work in Munich, Kipping took a position as demonstrator for Perkin, who had been appointed professor at the Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh. Perkin and Kipping collaborated in writing a very successful textbook of Organic Chemistry, which went through several editions after it was first published in 1899. It remained the standard organic textbook for 50 years.

In 1890, Kipping was appointed chief demonstrator in chemistry for the City and Guilds of London Institute, where he worked for the chemist Henry Edward Armstrong (1848-1937). In 1897 Kipping was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and moved to University College, Nottingham (now Nottingham University) as Professor of Chemistry. He remained at the University until his retirement in 1936.

The study of optically active compounds was Kipping's first research interest. While working with William Jackson Pope (1870-1939), an organic chemist who specialized in stereochemistry, Kipping investigated camphor derivatives (1890-1896) and nitrogen containing compounds (1900-1905). In 1899, Kipping also began working on organic compounds containing silicon. At first he was primarily interested in preparing optically active silicon compounds. Silicon is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust, but research on this rather intractable element had been very difficult. The method of synthesis that had just been developed by François Auguste Victor Grignard (1871-1935) facilitated this work. Using the newly available Grignard reagents, Kipping was able to synthesize many organic compounds containing one or more atoms of silicon. He also showed that it was possible to create long chains made up of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms. Kipping's studies of organic silicon compounds from 1900 were published in a series of 51 papers. In 1927 he first characterized polymers of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms as macromolecules, but he thought that the repeating unit was essentially a ketone. He therefore called the polymers silicones. This name has persisted, although the term "siloxanes" would be more appropriate.

Silicones exhibit exceptional high temperature stability and water resistance that make them valuable substitutes for greases and oils. Silicones can be prepared in forms ranging from free-flowing liquids to heavy greases. During World War II silicones were used as synthetic rubbers, water repellents, hydraulic fluids, greases, and so forth.

Many interesting and useful silicon compounds have been synthesized, but thermodynamic data indicate that many potential silicon analogs of carbon compounds cannot be prepared because they would be too unstable or too reactive. Therefore, it does not seem possible for silicon-based life forms to exist. Several science fiction writers have proposed the existence of silicon-based life forms, but scientists generally agree that its chemistry makes it an unlikely basis for alien life forms. In honor of Kipping, the most prestigious prize for research on silicon chemistry is called the Frederic Stanley Kipping Award in Silicon Chemistry.


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