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Definition: Staudinger from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

Hermann Staudinger 1881–1965 Ger. chem.


Summary Article: Staudinger, Hermann (1881-1965)
from The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography

Place: Germany

Subject: biography, chemistry

German organic chemist who pioneered polymer chemistry. His contribution was finally recognized when he was 72 years old with the award of the 1953 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Staudinger was born in Worms, Hesse, on 23 March 1881, the son of a physician. His university education included studies at Halle (where he obtained his PhD in 1903), Munich, and Darmstadt. He taught in Strasbourg, at the Technische Hochschule in Karlsruhe 1908-12 as professor of organic chemistry in association with Fritz Haber, and as professor of general chemistry at Zürich 1912-26, where he succeeded Richard Willstätter. In 1926 he was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, where he remained until he retired in 1951. In 1940 he was made director of the Chemical Laboratory and Research Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry. After 1951 his department at Freiburg became the State Research Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry and he was made an emeritus professor. He died in Freiburg on 8 September 1965.

Staudinger's first research, at Halle, concerned the malonic esters of unsaturated compounds. Then in 1907 under Johannes Thiele (1865-1918) at Strasbourg he made the unexpected discovery of the highly reactive ketenes, the substances that give the aroma to coffee.

It was in Karlsruhe that Staudinger began the work for which he was to become famous, the study of the nature of polymers. He devised a new and simple synthesis of isoprene (the monomer for the production of the synthetic rubber polyisoprene) and with C L Lautenschläger prepared polyoxymethylenes. All this work was done at a time when most chemists thought that polymers were disorderly conglomerates of small molecules. From 1926 Staudinger put forward the view - not immediately accepted - that polymers are giant molecules held together with ordinary chemical bonds. To give credence to the theory he made chemical changes to polymers that left their molecular weights almost unchanged; for example, he hydrogenated rubber to produce a saturated hydrocarbon polymer.

To measure the high molecular weights of polymers he devised a relationship, now known as Staudinger's law, between the viscosity of polymer solutions and their molecular weight. Viscometry is still widely used for this purpose in the plastics industry and in polymer research. Eventually X-ray crystallography was to confirm some of his predictions about the structures of polymers, particularly the long-chain molecular strands common to many of them.

Although Staudinger had no conception of how information is stored in nucleic acids or how such information is transferred to proteins, in 1936 he made a remarkably accurate prediction: ‘Every gene macromolecule possesses a quite different structural plan which determines its function in life.’ In his book Macromolekulare Chemie und Biologie (1947) he anticipated the molecular biology of the future.

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