125th Birthday: Izaak Kolthoff

125th Birthday: Izaak Kolthoff

Author: Catharina Goedecke

Izaak Maurits Kolthoff was born on February 11, 1894, in Almelo, The Netherlands. He was nicknamed “Piet” as a child and was called by this name throughout his life. Kolthoff is considered one of the fathers of modern analytical chemistry. He worked on a range of methods used for quantitative analysis (e.g., acid-base titrations, potentiometry, conductometry, voltammetry, and gravimetric analysis) and authored hundreds of scientific publications in the field.

Kolthoff received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, with a thesis on “Fundamentals of Iodimetry”. He had first studied pharmacy instead of chemistry as a way around language requirements—chemistry students had to learn either Latin or Greek. When this requirement was dropped in 1918, he received his degree in chemistry. At this time, he had already published more than 30 research papers.

Kolthoff’s work was always based on the physicochemical fundamentals and a sound understanding of the theory behind analytical experiments. He studied the pH concept, electron transfer reactions, proton transfer reactions, precipitations, and electrochemistry, among other topics related to chemical analysis.

Kolthoff moved to the United States in 1927 and joined the University of Minnesota as Professor of Analytical Chemistry, where he remained until his retirement in 1962. During World War II, he developed the low-temperature “cold process” for the production of synthetic rubber while working for the U.S. government. Polymerization at lower temperatures provides rubber with better processability and mechanical properties.

Kolthoff continued his research after retirement, publishing over 100 further academic articles. He also was politically active and opposed nuclear weapons testing. Kolthoff received numerous awards and several honorary doctorates for his work. He was named a Commander in the Order of Orange-Nassau by the Kingdom of The Netherlands, was a Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The American Chemical Society (ACS) included Kolthoff’s work at the University of Minnesota in their “National Historic Chemical Landmark” program in 2014. Izaak Maurits (“Piet”) Kolthoff died on March 4, 1993, in Saint Paul, MN, USA.

Izaak Kolthoff is the answer to Guess the Chemist (86).


Selected Publications


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