Discovery of Organic Free Radicals
Death of Moses Gomberg, 1947, who opened the study of free radicals in 1900 when he inadvertently prepared the first one, triphenylmethyl. Free radicals are essential to body functioning and are used in the production of plastics and other synthetic materials.
Moses Gomberg, a chemistry professor at the University of Michigan, discovered an organic free radical in 1900 and affirmed what had been thought impossible. A century later, free radical organic chemistry researchers look back to Gomberg as the founder of their field. His work led to modern theories of the structure and reactivity of organic molecules-theories whose application has had tremendous impact on modern life.
We now know that organic free radicals are essential to the way in which some enzymes function in the human body. We know that organic free radicals are involved in the body’s aging process, in its healthy functioning, and in the development of cancer and other serious diseases. Understanding organic free radicals has helped us explain DNA synthesis in the body and many other natural phenomena, from food spoilage to the effects of sunburn. Organic free radicals also play a major role in the production of plastics, synthetic rubber, and other widely used synthetic materials.
The American Chemical Society designated the discovery of organic free radicals by Moses Gomberg as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony at the University of Michigan on June 25, 2000, during a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Gomberg’s seminal discoveries.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to read more about the discovery of organic free radicals.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program