Hermann StaudingerThe most common misconception that people have about molecular chemistry is that the molecules are so incredibly small. Most molecules are relatively small. Diatomic molecules have only two atoms per molecule. Even the largest crystal structures, which contain hundreds of atoms, are relatively small. These molecules were considered the largest molecules until the 1930's. At this time Hermann Staudinger finally convinced the chemistry world that his theory of macromolecules was correct. Since then, our world has not been the same. We are affected by the application of these macromolecules every day. We are in debt to this genius of a man for his amazing work and his remarkable life.
Hermann Staudinger was born on March 23, 1881 in Worm, Germany.1 He was raised in an educated environment and was encouraged in his education. His father, Dr. Franz Staudinger, was a neo-kantian philosopher.2 Hermann attended Gymnasium at Worms and graduated in 1899.3 From there he attended the University of Halle for further education.4 He transferred to Darmstadt and then to the University of Munich.5 He eventually went back to Halle to complete his degree. While in college, he found an interest in botany and wanted to pursue that path. His parents supported him, but thought that a background in chemistry would be a much better approach and more practical. Staudinger agreed and studied chemistry in college instead of botany.6 He graduated from Halle in 1903. He received his teaching degree in highly active ketenes, something he discovered while doing his graduated research.7 Staudinger also received his Masterís degree while specializing on malonic esters of unsaturated compounds.8 He was an academic lecturer in 1907 at Strasbourg University under Professor Thiele.9 In the fall of 1907 he was appointed Professor of Organic Chemistry at the Institute of Chemistry of Technische Hochschule in Karlsruhe, Germany.10 Then in 1912 he became the lecturer at Eidgenossische Thechnische Hochschule in Zurich, a position that lasted fourteen years.11 During these years he worked on synthesizing rubber. It took him only three years to synthesize isoprene, one of the main compounds in naturally occurring rubber.12 During the time of WW I, Staudinger tried synthesizing coffee and paper because the war was causing shortages in Germany.13 He also started theorizing about the structure of rubber. His theories totally deviated from all other theories of his day. By the 1920's, his ideas generated into his theory of polymers. He worked a lot with synthetics, especially the production of polystyrene and polyoxymethylene.14 His theory was still looked down upon by the chemistry world, so from 1924-1926 he presented experiments to groups of scientists to gain their faith and acceptance.15 In 1926 Staudinger became the Lecturer of Chemistry at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau and stayed there for the rest of his career.16 In 1940 he also accepted the job of Principal of the Research Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry.17 He resigned from that post in April 1951. At that point he accepted the appointment as Head of the State Research Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry.18 During this time at this appointment he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1952 for his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry.19 He resigned from that post in 1956. Staudinger was married to Magda Woit, who helped him in many of his numerous publications.20 Staudinger died in 1965 in Freiburg im Breisgau, West Germany.21
Along with the previously stated contributions in the fields of synthesizing coffee, paper and isoprene, ketenes, and polymer theory, Staudinger had many more contributions in the world of chemistry. He also developed Staudingerís Law, which states that the viscosity of a molecule is inversely proportional to its molecular weight.22 Staudinger also connected proteins to high polymers.23 He made substantial work toward the understanding of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid.24 Staudinger wrote many books and journals about chemistry. His book Die Ketene(Ketenes) was published in 1912.25 He also wrote many other books: Anleitung zur organischen anorganische chemie(Table for the lectures on general and inorganic chemistry), 1927, 1st ed.; Die hochmolekularon organichen Verbindunger, Kautschak and Cellulose(The high-molecular organic compounds, rubber and cellulose), 1932; Organische Kolloidchemie(organic colloid chemistry), 1940, 1st ed.; Fortschritte der Chemie, Physik und technik der makromolekularem stoffe(Progress of the chemistry, physics and technique of the macromolecular substances), jointly with Professor Viewag and Professor Rohrs, Volume 1, 1939, Volume II 1942; Makromolekular Chemie und biologie(Macromolecular chemistry and biology), 1947; Vom Aufstand der technischen Sklaven(The uprising of the technical slave), 1947.25 In 1947 Staudinger started editing the periodical Die makromolekulare Chemie(Macromolecular Chemistry).26 He also wrote Arbeitserinnerunger(Working memoirs).27 He also wrote more than 500 papers on macromolecular compounds, including 120 on cellulose and 50 on rubber and isoprene. Papers on ketenes, oxlyl chloride, autoxidation, aliphatic diazo-compounds, explosions, insecticides, and synthetic paper have also been written by Staudinger.28
Staudinger has many awards and honors to go along with his marvelous career. He has many honorary doctorates from the universities where he worked.29 Along with winning the Nobel Prize in 1953, he also was awarded the Cannizzarro Prize of the Reale Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Roma in 1933.30 He is a member of the Institut de France, Soceity of Macromolecular Chemistry in Tokyo, and honorary member of many other chemistry societies.31
Even though Staudinger was a brilliant chemist, he did fail at a couple of his objectives. In the 1940's, his research declined as he tried to find polymers in bacteria.32 He was hindered by the fact that he could not understand how nucleic acids transferred information.33 He desperately tried, but could not figure out the concepts he hoped for.
Hermann Staudingerís work on polymers was not based blind faith, but rather in logic. He made reasonable, logical assumptions about the formation of polymers that could not be ignored by the organic chemists of his day. In organic chemistry, products are often produced that were not expected. Most observations of these substances show that these molecules are all joined and therefore labeled high molecular substances.34 In specific cases, several molecules are joined together and they make a closed ring structure. Staudinger theorized that when these molecules interact and are hindered in their ability to form closed ring structures, chains of these molecules join instead.35 The molecules join with other molecules, which in turn continue the process. This polymerization ends when the process in interrupted, possibly by running out of material.36 Since the chemicals that formed closed ring structures were formed due to normal chemical bonding, Staudinger proposed that these high molecular substances formed due to the same reasons.37 Using this argument, Staudinger argued that molecules could contain 10,000 to 100,000's of atoms. He further refined his theory by the 1930's by arguing that high molecular compounds form in chain molecules that have a common pattern and have average lengths.38 The lengths depend on the forces of the chemical bonds. These arguments are the basis for the plastic industry today. They are Staudingerís greatest contribution to the chemistry community and the world.
Staudingerís Law further helps us understand his work with polymers. An understanding of viscosity is a must for complete understanding of polymers.39 As the number of atoms in a polymer increases, the length of the macromolecule increases. As that length increases, so due the forces upon the chemical bonds. Therefore the larger the molecule, the more unstable it is. These macromolecules also decompose due to low molecules and oxygen in the atmosphere.40
Industry instantly accepted Staudingerís ideas and theory. By the time he had refined his theory in the 1930's, the plastic industry was already in full force.41 Plastics have come to be parts of our everyday lives. Fibers are also macromolecules. The nylon and polyester shirts that we wear are here today because of Staudingerís work. As the evidence shows, the public instantly accepted the idea of polymers and the commercial applications that derived from it.
As for Staudingerís personal approach on life, it was a rather pleasant one. Like most Germans, Staudinger was a Lutheran. This did not have much effect on his work. His marital life was extremely pleasant. He worked with his wife on numerous publications. She co-authored and was on of his co-workers along his side.42
The polymers that have so intrigued Staudinger have grown into a significant part of the chemical world. Staudinger himself placed his work in between cytology and low-molecular chemistry.43 His contributions have sent us into the Age of Plastic on a good foot. I only wish that his presentation of the Nobel Prize would have occurred earlier in his life. It did put a deserving final note on his career, but it would have been more meaningful earlier. Nevertheless, Staudinger was a remarkable man and will ever be remembered so.
1 Frank N. Magill, editor. The Nobel Prize Winners: Chemistry,
Volume II: 1938-1968, Salem Press, Pasadena, CA, 1990, pg 12.
2 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
3 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
4 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
5 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
6 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
7 Frank N. Magill, pg 15.
8 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
12 Frank N. Magill, pg 14.
13 Frank N. Magill, pg 14.
14 Frank N. Magill, pg 14.
15 Frank N. Magill, pg 14.
21 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
22 Frank N. Magill, pg 15.
23 Frank N. Magill, pg 15.
24 Frank N. Magill, pg 15.
32 Frank N. Magill, pg 15.
33 Frank N. Magill, pg 15.
39 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
40 Frank N. Magill, pg 13.
43 Frank N. Magill, pg 17.