1931 death of Otto Wallach, who analyzed fragrant essential oils to determine the molecular structure of terpene compounds. Terpenes were of importance in medicine and the perfume industry.
Otto Wallach was born on March 27, 1847, in Königsberg, Germany, the son of Gerhard Wallach and his wife, née Otillie Thoma. During his early school years at the humanistic “Gymnasium” at Potsdam, Wallach had a profound liking for history and art – in those days subjects like chemistry were hardly taught at secondary-school level.
After the war he tried for the third time to establish himself in Berlin, working with a newly founded firm “Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation” (later “Agfa”), but his fragile health could not stand the noxious fumes of the factory, and in 1872 he returned to Bonn, where he stayed for 19 years. He first became assistant in the organic laboratory, and later was appointed Privatdozent. In 1876 came his appointment as Professor Extraordinary. When in 1879 the Chair of Pharmacology became vacant he was obliged to occupy it, which forced him to specialize in this direction. It was during this period that he discovered the iminochlorides by the action of phosphorus pentachloride on the acid amides. But when Kekulé drew his attention to the existence of an old forgotten cupboard full of bottles containing essential oils, and invited him to make a study of the contents, he became absorbed in the matter, thus entering a field of study in which he was to be the eminent pioneer for more than a decade, and which was to be his main life-work, crowned with the highest possible distinction.
Visit the official web site of the Nobel Foundation to read more about Otto Wallach.
Excerpted with permission, www.nobelprize.org