200th Birthday: Henri Sainte-Claire Deville

200th Birthday: Henri Sainte-Claire Deville

Author: ChemViews Magazine

Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville was born on March 11, 1818, on the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies. His family returned to their native France, and he received an education at the private “Collège Rollin” in Paris. During his time at university, he set up his own private chemical laboratory. He graduated with doctorates in both medicine and science.

From 1845 to 1851, Deville served as Professor of Chemistry in Besançon, France. He then returned to Paris and joined the École Normale Supérieure. He became Substitute Lecturer at the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) in 1853 and received the title of Professor there in 1866.

Deville discovered a number of important compounds, worked on the preparation of pure metals, and made contributions to the understanding of reversible reactions. He discovered toluene in tolu balsam, which is obtained from certain South American trees. He obtained the first anhydride of a monobasic acid, nitrogen pentoxide (N2O5). Deville developed a method to prepare aluminum by reducing aluminum dichloride with sodium. He also developed a factory-scale process for the synthesis of sodium by the reduction of sodium bicarbonate with carbon, which drastically reduced the cost of both sodium itself and aluminum.

Working with Friedrich Wöhler, Deville studied boron and obtained the element in crystalline form. He also was able to obtain silicon crystals, pure magnesium, and high-purity titanium and platinum. Together with his doctoral student Louis Joseph Troost, Deville worked on the determination of vapor densities at high temperatures, as well as on the understanding of reversible reactions and the concept of chemical dissociation.

Henri Sainte-Claire Deville died in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France, on July 1, 1881. The “Rue Sainte-Claire-Deville” in Paris was named in his honor in 1885.

Henri Sainte-Claire Deville is the answer to Guess the Chemist (75).


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