August Wilhelm von Hofmann

8 Apr 1818
5 May 1892
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August Wilhelm von Hofmann (8 April 1818 – 5 May 1892) was a German chemist. After studying under Justus von Liebig at the University of Giessen, Hofmann became the first director of the Royal College of Chemistry in London, in 1845. In 1865 he returned to Germany to accept a position at the University of Berlin as a teacher and researcher. After his return he co-founded the German Chemical Society (Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft) (1867). In both London and Berlin, Hofmann recreated the style of laboratory instruction established by Liebig at Giessen, fostering a school of chemistry focused on experimental organic chemistry and its industrial applications.

He made considerable contributions to organic chemistry. His research on aniline helped lay the basis of the aniline-dye industry. His earliest research on coal tar laid the groundwork for his student Charles Mansfield’s practical methods for extracting benzene and toluene and converting them into nitro compounds and amines. Hofmann prepared three ethylamines and tetraethylammonium compounds and established their structural relationship to ammonia. His discoveries include formaldehyde, hydrazobenzene, the isonitriles, and allyl alcohol. His name is associated with the Hofmann voltameter and with a number of processes which he investigated, including the Hofmann rearrangement, the Hofmann–Martius rearrangement, Hofmann elimination, and the Hofmann-Löffler reaction.

Hofmann received several significant awards in the field of chemistry, including the Royal Medal (1854), the Copley Medal (1875) and the Albert Medal (1881). He was ennobled on his seventieth birthday.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1851. He was awarded the society’s Royal Medal in 1854 and their Copley Medal in 1875. On his 70th birthday, in 1888, he was ennobled, enabling him to add the prefix “von” before his last name.

In 1900, the German Chemical Society built the “Hofmann-Haus” at Berlin and in 1902 created the August Wilhelm von Hofmann Gold Medal in his honour, to be awarded for outstanding achievements in chemistry. The first recipients were Sir William Ramsay of England and Professor Henri Moissan of Paris.

Hofmann died in 1892 and was buried in Berlin’s Friedhof der Dorotheenstädtischen und Friedrichswerderschen Gemeinden

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