– September 8
) was a German
chemist who demonstrated the existence of macromolecules
which he characterized as polymers
. For this work he received the 1953 Nobel Prize
in Chemistry. He is also known for his discovery of ketenes
and of the Staudinger reaction
Hermann Staudinger was born in 1881 in Worms, Germany
. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Halle
in 1903, Staudinger took a position at the University of Strasbourg
. It was here that he discovered the ketenes
, a family of molecules characterized by the general form depicted in Figure 1
. Ketenes would prove a synthetically-important intermediate for the production of yet-to-be-discovered antibiotics such as penicillin
In 1907, Staudinger began an assistant professorship at the Technical University of Karlsruhe where he successfully isolated a number of useful organic compounds (including a synthetic coffee flavoring) as more completely reviewed by Mülhaupt.
The Staudinger reaction
In 1912, Staudinger took on a new position at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
in Zurich, Switzerland
. One of his earliest discoveries came in 1919, when he and colleague Meyer reported that azides
react with triphenylphosphine
to form phosphazide
). This reaction – commonly referred to as the Staudinger reaction
– produces a high phosphazide yield.
While at Karlsruhe and later, Zurich, Staudinger began research in the chemistry of rubber
, for which very high molecular weights
had been measured by the physical methods of Raoult
and van 't Hoff
. Contrary to prevailing ideas (see below), Staudinger proposed in a landmark paper published in 1920 that rubber and other polymeric substances such as starch
are long chains of short repeating molecular units linked by covalent bonds
. In other words, polymers are like chains of paper clips, made up of small constituent parts linked from end to end (Figure 3
At the time leading organic chemists such as Emil Fischer and Heinrich Wieland. believed that the measured high molecular weights were only apparent values caused by the aggregation of small molecules into colloids. At first the majority of Staudinger’s colleagues refused to accept the possibility that small molecules could link together covalently to form high-molecular weight compounds. As Mülhaupt aptly notes, this is due in part to the fact that molecular structure and bonding theory were not fully understood in the early 20th century.
Further evidence to support Staudinger’s hypothesis emerged in the 1930s. High molecular weights of polymers were confirmed by membrane osmometry, and also by Staudinger’s measurements of viscosity in solution. The X-ray diffraction studies of polymers by Herman Mark provided direct evidence for long chains of repeating molecular units. And the synthetic work led by Carothers demonstrated that polymers such as nylon and polyester could be prepared by well-understood organic reactions.
Staudinger’s groundbreaking elucidation of the nature of the high-molecular weight compounds he termed Makromoleküle
paved the way for the birth of the field of polymer chemistry. Staudinger himself saw the potential for this science long before it was fully realized. “It is not improbable,” Staudinger smartly commented in 1936, “that sooner or later a way will be discovered to prepare artificial fibers from synthetic high-molecular products, because the strength and elasticity of natural fibers depend exclusively on their macro-molecular structure – i.e., on their long thread-shaped molecules.” Staudinger founded the first polymer chemistry journal in 1940, and in 1953 received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry.” His pioneering research has afforded the world myriad plastics, textiles, and other polymeric materials which make consumer products more affordable, attractive, and fun.
- Helmut Ringsdorf (2004). "Hermann Staudinger and the Future of Polymer Research Jubilees - Beloved Occasions for Cultural Piety". Angewandte Chemie International Edition 43 (9): 1064–1076.
- Heinrich Hopff (1969). "Hermann Staudinger 1881-1965". Chemische Berichte 102 (5): XLI.