Biography & Contributions
Pierre Eugene Marcellin Berthelot was a French chemist born on October 25, 1827 — died on March 18, 1907. Berthelot is considered as one of the greatest chemists of all time. He is noted for the Thomsen-Berthelot principle of thermochemistry.
He synthesized many organic compounds from inorganic substances, providing a large amount of counterevidence to the theory of Jons Jakob Berzelius that organic compounds required organisms in their synthesis.
Berthelot’s chemical work was that all chemical phenomena depend on the action of physical forces which can be determined and measured.
Berthelot proved that organic compounds can be formed by ordinary methods of chemical manipulation and obey the same principles as inorganic substances.
Some of his more notable achievements included the synthesis of formic acid, methane and acetylene chemicals. His synthesis of benzene in 1851 by heating acetylene in a glass tube opened the way to the production of aromatic compounds.
Along with other chemist Leon Pean de Saint-Gilles, Berthelot noticed that, in the reaction of alcohol with acids to form esters, the rate of reaction depended on the quantities of reagents and products involved.
Berthelot formulated three basic principles for the new discipline the equivalence between internal work and heat changes in a chemical reaction; the heat evolved depends only on the initial and final states; and chemical changes tend toward the production of the bodies that produce the most heat.
He demonstrated that glycerol is a triatomic alcohol. Berthelot was able to synthesize fats, including some that do not occur naturally, by combining glycerol with fatty acids.
Berthelot investigated sugars, identifying them as both alcohols and aldehydes. Berthelot also synthesized the hydrocarbons naphthalene and anthracene. In 1860, he summarized his previous decade’s work in Organic Chemistry Based on Synthesis. Berthelot’s interest in using an acid and an alcohol to create esters led him to study the kinetics of reversible reactions.
Berthelot’s thermochemical research led him to invent the bomb calorimeter, an apparatus consisting of a strong container in which a sample of fuel or food is sealed with excess oxygen and ignited electrically. Berthelot investigated the extraction of saltpeter for gunpowder.
Berthelot conducted important research in agricultural chemistry. He rediscovered the role that microorganisms play in the fixation of nitrogen in soils. In 1893, he succeeded in isolating and preparing a culture of such microorganisms.