Great Engineers & Scientists Blog

Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Felix Hoffman

Posted May 18, 2006 12:30 PM
Pathfinder Tags: February 8 January 21

Felix Hoffman was a German chemist who synthesized acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), the main ingredient in aspirin.

Hoffman was born on January 21, 1868 in Ludwigsburg, a city in southern Germany. Although Hoffman had planned to become a pharmacist, his interest in chemistry led to his greatest achievement. In 1891, Hoffman graduated from the University of Munich magna cum laude. Two years later, he earned his Ph.D. with a thesis entitled "On certain derivatives of dihydroanthracene." In 1894, Hoffman followed the advice of Adolph von Baeyer, a former professor and future Nobel Prize laureate, and joined Friedrich Bayer & Co. as a research chemist. While working in the laboratory, he sought a cure for the debilitating arthritis that afflicted his father. Although pain relievers were as old as Hippocrates, chemists had been unable to neutralize salicylic acid, a non-narcotic analgesic which occurs naturally in willow trees and spirea plants.

Hoffman's research led him along a path abandoned by Charles Frederic Gerhardt, a French chemist who helped develop the theory of atomic weight. In 1853, Gerhardt combined salicylic acid with sodium and acetyl chloride to form acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), a substance which caused less stomach discomfort than pure salicylic acid. Unimpressed with the nature of his discovery, Gerhardt terminated his research in order to complete other projects. In 1897, the 29-year old Hoffman unearthed Gerhardt's work and performed modified versions of his predecessor's ASA experiments. Several months later, Hoffman synthesized salicylic acid with acetic acid to create an ASA powder that reduced fevers and joint inflammation without salicin's uncomfortable side effects.

After testing several versions on his father, Hoffman identified the most effective solution and presenting his findings to Bayer, which marketed the product as aspirin. A concatenation, aspirin takes its leading "a" from acetyl and its "spir" from the spirea plant. The ending "in" was a common suffix for nineteenth century medications. When Bayer patented aspirin in 1899, Hoffman was named head of the pharmaceutical marketing department. The lifelong bachelor received no other financial rewards, and retired to Switzerland in 1926, where he led a quiet life until his death in 1946. According to some estimates, the world consumed more than one trillion aspirin during the twentieth century.

Resources: irin.htm 060/ rin.htm nn.htm


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