Adolf von Baeyer

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For the founder of the pharmaceutical company Bayer, see Friedrich Bayer.
Adolf von Baeyer
Adolf von Baeyer (1905).jpg
von Baeyer in 1905
Born Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf Baeyer
(1835-10-31)October 31, 1835
Berlin, Prussia (German Confederation)
Died August 20, 1917(1917-08-20) (aged 81)
Starnberg, (Bavaria) German Empire
Nationality Germany
Fields Organic chemistry
Institutions University of Berlin
Gewerbe-Akademie, Berlin
University of Strasbourg
University of Munich
Alma mater University of Berlin
Doctoral advisor Friedrich August Kekulé
Doctoral students Emil Fischer
John Ulric Nef
Victor Villiger
Carl Theodore Liebermann
Carl Gräbe
Known for Synthesis of indigo, phenolphthalein, fluorescein
Notable awards Davy Medal (1881)
Liebig Medal (1903)
Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1905)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1912)
Spouse Adelheid Bendemann (m. 1868; 3 children)

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer (German: [ˈbaɪɐ]; October 31, 1835 – August 20, 1917) was a German chemist who synthesized indigo,[1] and was the 1905 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[2]

Life and career

Baeyer was born in Berlin as the son of Johann Jacob Baeyer (de) (1794-1885), a well-known geodesist, and his wife Eugenie Hitzig.[3] His father was a Lutheran.[4][5] His mother was daughter of Julius Eduard Hitzig, member of the Jewish Itzig family, and had converted to Christianity.[6] Baeyer initially studied mathematics and physics at Berlin University before moving to Heidelberg to study chemistry with Robert Bunsen. There he worked primarily in August Kekulé's laboratory, earning his doctorate (from Berlin) in 1858. He followed Kekulé to the University of Ghent, when Kekulé became professor there. He became a lecturer at the Berlin Trade Academy in 1860 and a Professor at the University of Strasbourg in 1871. In 1875 he succeeded Justus von Liebig as Chemistry Professor at the University of Munich.[7]

Baeyer's chief achievements include the synthesis and description of the plant dye indigo, the discovery of the phthalein dyes, and the investigation of polyacetylenes, oxonium salts, nitroso compounds (1869) and uric acid derivatives (1860 and onwards) (including the discovery of barbituric acid (1864), the parent compound of the barbiturates). He was the first to propose the correct formula for indole in 1869, after publishing the first synthesis three years earlier. His contributions to theoretical chemistry include the 'strain' (Spannung) theory of triple bonds and strain theory in small carbon rings.[8]

In 1871 he discovered the synthesis of phenolphthalein by condensation of phthalic anhydride with two equivalents of phenol under acidic conditions (hence the name). That same year he was the first to obtain synthetic fluorescein, a fluorophore pigment which is similar to naturally occurring pyoverdin that is synthesized by microorganisms (e.g., by some fluorescent strains of Pseudomonas). Baeyer named his finding resorcinphthalein as he had synthesized it from phthalic anhydride and resorcinol. The term fluorescein would not start to be used until 1878.

In 1872 he experimented with phenol and formaldehyde; the resinous product[9] was a precursor for Leo Baekeland's later commercialization of Bakelite.

In 1881 the Royal Society of London awarded Baeyer the Davy Medal for his work with indigo. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1884.[10] In 1905 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "in recognition of his services in the advancement of organic chemistry and the chemical industry, through his work on organic dyes and hydroaromatic compounds", and he continued in full active work as one of the best-known teachers in the world of organic chemistry up to within a year of his death.[11]

Baeyer's name is pronounced like the English word "buyer." His birth name was Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf Baeyer, but throughout most of his life he was known simply as "Adolf Baeyer." The poet Adelbert von Chamisso and the astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel were his godparents. On his fiftieth birthday he was raised to the hereditary nobility, changing his name to "Adolf von Baeyer."


  1. Adolf Baeyer, Viggo Drewsen (1882). "Darstellung von Indigblau aus Orthonitrobenzaldehyd" [Preparation of blue indigo from o-nitrobenzaldehyde]. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft. 15 (2): 2856–2864. doi:10.1002/cber.188201502274. 
  2. Adolf von Baeyer: Winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1905 Armin de Meijere Angewandte Chemie International Edition Volume 44, Issue 48 , Pages 7836 – 7840 2005 Abstract
  3. "Adolf von Baeyer - Biographical". 1917-08-20. Retrieved 2013-12-09. 
  6. "HowStuffWorks "Adolf von Baeyer"". 2009-07-20. Retrieved 2013-12-09. 
  7. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911.
  8. Adolf Baeyer (1885). "Ueber Polyacetylenverbindungen (Zweite Mittheilung)" [On polyacetylene compounds (Part II)]. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft. 18 (2): 2269–2281. doi:10.1002/cber.18850180296.  See especially pages 2277-2281.
  10. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 May 2011. 
  11.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Baeyer, Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von". Encyclopædia Britannica. 30 (12th ed.). London & New York. 

External links