Monday, November 30, 2009

Martin H. Klaproth


Martin Heinrich Klaproth was born on December 1, 1743. The second son of a citizen of Wernigerode, who lost all his wealth in a tragic fire in 1751, Martin was forced to sing in the church choir in order to subsidize his studies. Originally he intended to enter the clergy like his older brother, but when faced with hard treatment by his instructors he resolved to study to be an apothecary. He then spent five years as an apprentice and worked for two years in the public laboratory in Quedlinburgh. However it was not until 1766, when he worked at the public laboratory in Hanover that he was able to have access to current scientific texts. This awakened his interest in science. In 1782 he became the pharmaceutical assessor at a medical school in Berlin and in 1810 he was appointed professor of chemistry at the newly founded University of Berlin.

At his time, Klaproth was the leading chemist in Germany. He was one the first non-French adherents to the antiphlogistic theories of Lavosier and in the course of his research Klaproth was the first to describe the elements uranium, zirconium and cerium, although he did not obtain the elements in pure metallic form. He also confirmed the existence of titanium as an element. His exact experimentation and use of quantitative methods did much to develop analytical chemistry and mineralogy.

Klaproth is best remembered for his discovery of uranium, which he named after the newly discovered planet Uranus, rather than after himself which was the custom at the time. In 1789 he was examining waste product from St. Joachimstahl and noticed that the stuff associated with lead. When he heated it in solution a yellow crystal was produced, which was unlike anything he had ever seen before. He added wax and a little oil to produce a heavy grayish residue which he identified as a new element. This was uranium.

Klaproth has a crater on the moon named after him.

For his work in analytical chemistry and his discovery of uranium Martin Klaproth is the Dead Scientist of the week for the week of November 29-December 5, 2009


References:

Martin Klaproth Wikipedia Entry

Zoellner, Tom; Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World; Viking Adult; 2009

Fischer, E. G.; Memoir of the Life of Martin Henry Klaproth; Edinburgh Philisophical Journal; (1821) Vol. 5, Part 2, Issue 10, p.319-334

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