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Jewish Contributions : Chemistry
By Tammy Schwartz - July 30, 2009


Adolf von Baeyer
Chemistry is a science that is concerned with the composition, structure, and properties of matter as well as the changes it undergoes during chemical reactions. Modern chemistry is an outgrowth of the chemical and metallurgical crafts like iron and glass making. Jews likely learned these crafts in ancient Babylonia and brought them with them to Europe and Asia during the Diaspora.

This interest probably led to Jews to continue to be involved in the study of chemical reactions and likely led to their heavy involvement in the development of chemical industries in Germany and throughout Europe in the late 19th century and to a number of Jewish chemists playing a major role in modern industrial chemistry. Notable among them was Adolf von Baeyer who was the first Jewish winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1905 for his work in synthesizing acids to be used as sedatives in surgery and went on to found the Baeyer Chemical Company which would bring the world the aspirin.

Another was Fritz Haber who discovered how to synthesize ammonia that increased the mass production of both fertilizers and explosives. This work helped the German industrial giant BASF and other German chemical industrial enterprises become world leaders in both the production and the development of new commercial applications. From 1894-1911 he and Carl Bosch developed the Haber-Bosch process which helped create ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen under conditions of low temperature and high pressure and in 1918 received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his efforts.

There were a few other Jewish Nobel Prize winners for Chemistry during the early 20th century including Otto Wallach in 1910 for his work on alicyclic compounds to Richard Willstäter who won a Nobel Prize in 1915 for his investigations into plant pigments, especially his work on chlorophyll.
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