Sir Edward Frankland
In 1852, English chemist Sir Edward Frankland presents the concept later known as chemical valence, a theory fundamental to understanding chemical structure. Frankland also was an advocate for clean water.
As six major epidemics of cholera swept the globe during the 19th century, fecally contaminated drinking water killed millions of people. For more than 30 of those terror-filled years, the resolute courage of one chemist, Edward Frankland, protected the public health.
So he is almost unknown today, although during his lifetime he was one of Britain’s most important chemists. Frankland discovered the fundamental principle of valency—the combining power of atoms to form compounds. He gave the chemical “bond” its name, and popularized the notation we use today for writing chemical formulas. He codiscovered helium, helped found synthetic organic and structural chemistry, and was the father of organometallic chemistry. He was also the first person to thoroughly analyze the gases from different types of coal, and—dieters take note—the first to measure the calories in food.
Edward Frankland believed that water was guilty until proven innocent, and he condemned tainted water with the righteous conviction of a law-and order prosecutor. For 30 years, Frankland was a strong voice—often the only voice—for clean water. Unfortunately, no one knew for sure what clean water was. Frankland staked out a radical position: whatever the deadly agents were, they were almost certainly introduced into water by sewage, so any trace of sewage raised a red flag. He became convinced later that some of the microscopic bacteria in water probably caused fatal diseases. Frankland approached the problem as a chemist. He devised sensitive new techniques for determining the amount of organic nitrogen in water samples.
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Excerpted with permission, ChemMatters
Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society