Justus von Liebig

Justus von Liebig

name = Justus von Liebig

image_width = 300px
caption = Justus von Liebig-chemist
birth_date = birth date|1803|5|12|df=y
birth_place = Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse
death_date = death date and age|1873|4|18|1803|5|12
death_place = Munich, German Empire
residence = Grand Duchy of Hesse, then German Empire
nationality = Hessian, then German
field = Chemist
work_institutions = University of Giessen
University of Munich
alma_mater = University of Bonn
University of Erlangen
doctoral_advisor = Karl Wilhelm Gottlob Kastner
doctoral_students = Carl Schmidt,
Nikolay Zinin,
Victor Regnault,
Carl von Voit,
Hermann von Fehling,
Hermann Franz Moritz Kopp,
August Kekulé,
August von Hofmann,
Lyon Playfair,
Emil Erlenmeyer,
Moritz Traube,
Adolph Strecker,
Wilhelm Henneberg ,
known_for = Nitrogen
Law of the Minimum
Liebig condenser
prizes =
religion =
Justus von Liebig (May 12, 1803 – April 18, 1873) was a German chemist who made major contributions to agricultural and biological chemistry, and worked on the organization of organic chemistry. As a professor, he devised the modern laboratory-oriented teaching method, and for such innovations, he is regarded as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time. He is known as the "father of the fertilizer industry" for his discovery of nitrogen as an essential plant nutrient, and his formulation of the Law of the Minimum which described the effect of individual nutrients on crops. He also developed a manufacturing process for beef extract, and founded a company, Liebig Extract of Meat Company, that later trademarked the Oxo brand beef bouillon cube.


Liebig was born in Darmstadt into a middle class family. From childhood he was fascinated by chemistry and even was expelled from his grammar school for detonating an explosive device he had made at home from chemicals obtained from his father's drysaltery business. [This tale is probably apocryphal--there is no historical evidence that it occurred.] He was apprenticed to the apothecary Gottfried Pirsch (1792-1870) in Heppenheim.

Liebig attended the University of Bonn, studying under Karl Wilhelm Gottlob Kastner, a business associate of his father. When Kastner moved to the University of Erlangen, Liebig followed him and later took his doctorate from Erlangen. Liebig did not receive the doctorate until well after he had left Erlangen, and the circumstances are clouded by a possible scandal [see Munday (1990)] . Also at Erlangen, Liebig fell in love with the poet August von Platen-Hallermünde (1796-1835) [William H. Brock. Justus von Liebig: The Chemical Gatekeeper. Cambridge University Press, 2002, page 21] who wrote several sonnets dedicated to Liebig. He left Erlangen in March 1822, in part because of his involvement with the radical Korps Rhenania (a nationalist student organization) but also because of his hopes for more advanced chemical studies.

In autumn 1822 Liebig went to study in Paris on a grant obtained for him by Kastner from the Hessian government. He worked in the private laboratory of Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, and was also befriended by Alexander von Humboldt and Georges Cuvier (1769-1832).

After leaving Paris, Liebig returned to Darmstadt and married Henriette Moldenhauer, the daughter of a state official. This ended Liebig's relationship with Platen.

In 1824 at the age of 21 and with Humboldt's recommendation, Liebig became a professor at the University of Giessen. He established the world's first major school of chemistry there. He received an appointment from the King of Bavaria to the University of Munich in 1852, where he remained until his death in 1873 in Munich. He became Freiherr (baron) in 1845.

He founded and edited from 1832 the journal "Annalen der Chemie", which became the leading German-language journal of Chemistry. The volumes from his lifetime are often referenced just as "Liebigs Annalen"; and following his death the title was officially changed to "Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie".

Research and development

Liebig improved organic analysis with the "Kaliapparat" -- a five-bulb device that used a potassium hydroxide solution to remove the organic combustion product carbon dioxide. [cite journal | author = Liebig, J. | title = Ueber einen neuen Apparat zur Analyse organischer Körper, und über die Zusammensetzung einiger organischen Substanzen | journal = Annalen der Physik | year = 1831 | volume = 21 | pages = 1 – 47] He downplayed the role of humus in plant nutrition and discovered that plants feed on nitrogen compounds and carbon dioxide derived from the air, as well as on minerals in the soil. One of his most recognized and far-reaching accomplishments was the invention of nitrogen-based fertilizer. Liebig believed that nitrogen must be supplied to plant roots in the form of ammonia. Though a practical and commercial failure, his invention of fertilizer recognized the possibility of substituting chemical fertilizers for "natural" (animal dung, etc.) ones. He also formulated the Law of the Minimum, stating that a plant's development is limited by the one essential mineral that is in the relatively shortest supply, visualized as "Liebig's barrel". This concept is a qualitative version of the principles used to determine the application of fertilizer in modern agriculture.

He was also one of the first chemists to organize a laboratory as we know it today. His novel method of organic analysis made it possible for him to direct the analytical work of many graduate students. The vapor condensation device he popularized for his research is still known as a Liebig condenser, although it was in common use long before Liebig's research began. Liebig's students were from many of the German states as well as Britain and the United States, and they helped create an international reputation for their "Doktorvater."

In 1835 he invented a process for silvering that greatly improved the utility of mirrors.

Liebig's work on applying chemistry to plant and animal physiology was especially influential. At a time when many chemists such as Jöns Jakob Berzelius insisted on a hard and fast separation between the organic and inorganic, Liebig argued that "...the production of all organic substances no longer belongs just to the organism. It must be viewed as not only probable but as certain that we shall produce them in our laboratories. Sugar, salicin [aspirin] , and morphine will be artificially produced." [Liebig and Woehler (1838)]

Liebig's arguments against any chemical distinction between living (physiological) and dead chemical processes proved a great inspiration to several of his students and others who were interested in materialism. Though Liebig distanced himself from the direct political implications of materialism, he tacitly supported the work of Karl Vogt (1817-1895), Jacob Moleschott (1822-1893), and Ludwig Buechner (1824-1899).

Liebig played a more direct role in reforming politics in the German states through his promotion of science-based agriculture and the publication of John Stuart Mill's "Logic." Through Liebig's close friendship with the Vieweg family publishing house, he arranged for his former student Jacob Schiel (1813-1889) to translate Mill's important work for German publication. Liebig liked Mill's "Logic" in part because it promoted science as a means to social and political progress, but also because Mill featured several examples of Liebig's research as an ideal for the scientific method.Liebig is also credited with the notion that "searing meat seals in the juices." [cite book | author=McGee, Harold | title=On Food and Cooking (Revised Edition) | publisher=Scribner | year=2004 | id=ISBN 0-684-80001-2 Page 161, "The Searing Question".] This idea, still widely believed, is not true.

Working with Belgian engineer George Giebert, Liebig devised an efficient method of producing beef extract from carcasses. In 1865, they founded the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, marketing the extract as a cheap, nutritious alternative to real meat. Some years after Liebig's death, in 1899, the product was trademarked "Oxo".

After World War II, the University of Giessen was officially renamed after him, "Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen". In 1953 the West German post office issued a stamp in his honor. [Germany #695, "Scott catalogue"]

Major works

* [http://books.google.com/books?id=p-IMAAAAYAAJ&dq=Organic+Chemistry+in+its+Application+to+Agriculture+and+Physiology Organic Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology] (1840)
* [http://books.google.com/books?id=90AQAAAAYAAJ&dq=Organic+Chemistry+in+its+Application+to+Physiology+and+Pathology Organic Chemistry in its Application to Physiology and Pathology] (1842)
*"Familiar Letters on Chemistry" (1843)

See also

* History of Soil Science
* List of chemists



*William H. Brock, [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521524733/ Justus von Liebig: The Chemical Gatekeeper] (Cambridge University Press, 1997). See also [http://www.scs.uiuc.edu/~mainzv/HIST/awards/Dexter%20Papers/BrockDexterBioJJB.pdf William H. Brock] .
id = PMID:14500604
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14500604
publication-date=2003 Oct
title=Justus Liebig and animal chemistry.
periodical=Clin. Chem.

id = PMID:12921103
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12921103
publication-date=2003 Mar
title=Liebig, his university professor Karl Wilhelm Gottlob Kastner (1783-1857) and his problematic relation with romantic natural philosophy.

id = PMID:11640225
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11640225
publication-date=2000 Jul
title=Justus von Liebig and his influence on clinical chemistry.

id = PMID:11621581
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11621581
title=Philipp Lorenz Geiger and Justus Liebig.

id = PMID:11614053
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11614053
first=K Y
title=Johannes Müller and Justus Liebig on nutrition.

id = PMID:11610495
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11610495
publication-date=1977 Nov
title=Religion and science in the thought of Liebig.

id = PMID:11610199
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11610199
title=The Liebig-Mulder controversy. On the methodology of physiological chemistry.
periodical=Janus; revue internationale de l'histoire des sciences, de la médecine, de la pharmacie, et de la technique

id = PMID:11615416
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11615416
publication-date=1974 Sep
title=Liebig on Francis Bacon and the utility of science.
periodical=Annals of science

id = PMID:4576434
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4576434
publication-date=1973 Jun 3
title= [Justus Liebig]
periodical=Orvosi hetilap

id = PMID:13952197
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13952197
publication-date=1963 Aug 11
title=Justus Liebig
periodical=Orvosi hetilap

id = PMID:13187963
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13187963
publication-date=1954 Jun 11
title=Justus von Liebig, founder of physiological chemistry.
periodical=Wien. Klin. Wochenschr.

id = PMID:13088290
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13088290
publication-date=1953 May
title=To Justus von Liebig on his 150th birthday, 12 May 1953

id = PMID:13081110
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13081110
title=Justus von Liebig and the Archiv der Pharmazie; in memory of Liebig's birthday, 12 May 1803
periodical=Archiv der Pharmazie und Berichte der Deutschen Pharmazeutischen Gesellschaft

*cite journal
title = Zur Hundertsten Wiederkehr: Justus von Liebig nach dem Leben gezeichnet
author = G. F. Knapp
journal = Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft
volume = 36
issue = 2
pages = 1315 – 1330
year = 1903
url =
doi = 10.1002/cber.19030360202

*cite journal
title = Nekrolog: Justus von Liebig. Eigenhändige biographische Aufzeichnungen
author = Georg Freiherr von Liebig
journal = Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft
volume = 23
issue = 3
pages = 817 – 828
year = 1890
url =
doi = 10.1002/cber.18900230391

*cite journal
title = Zur Erinnerung an Justus von Liebig
author =
journal = Journal für Praktische Chemie
volume = 8
issue = 1
pages = 428 – 458
year = 1873
url =
doi = 10.1002/prac.18740080148

External links

* [http://librivox.org/familiar-letters-on-chemistry-by-justus-liebig/ Familiar Letters on Chemistry] at librivox.org
*Gutenberg author|id=Justus_Freiherr_von_Liebig|name=Justus von Liebig
*Worldcat id|id=lccn-n80-133000

NAME= Liebig, Justus von
DATE OF BIRTH= birth date|1803|5|12|df=y
PLACE OF BIRTH= Darmstadt, Germany
DATE OF DEATH= death date|1873|4|18|df=y
PLACE OF DEATH= Munich, Germany

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