100th Anniversary: Death of William Odling

100th Anniversary: Death of William Odling

Author: Catharina Goedecke

William Odling was born on September 5, 1829, in Southwark, London, UK. Starting in 1846, he studied medicine and chemistry at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, London, and graduated in 1849. He became Demonstrator at Guy’s Hospital Medical School in 1850. During the 1850s, he was appointed Director of the Chemical Laboratory and later became Lecturer in Chemistry and Professor of Practical Chemistry. 

In 1863, Odling became joint Lecturer in Chemistry at St. Bartholomew Hospital, London, sharing the post with Edward Frankland. The following year, Frankland resigned and Odling became sole Lecturer in Chemistry. In 1868, he succeeded Michael Faraday as Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, London. From 1872 until his retirement in 1912, Odling served as Waynflete Professor of Chemistry and Fellow of Worcester College at Oxford University, UK.

Odling contributed to the development of the periodic table in the 1860s. There were several chemists working on the topic at the time, including Dmitri Mendeleev in Russia as the most well-known, but also Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois in France, John Newlands in the UK, Gustavus Detlef Hinrichs in the United States, and Lothar Meyer in Germany. Odling published a periodic table with 57 elements in 1864 [1], but did not pursue this work further.

Odling also worked on the concept of valence. He proposed that carbon is tetravalent in 1855 [2]—independently from August Kekulé, who published and formalized this idea in 1857 [3]. Odling had a broad range of other research interests in chemistry and medicinal chemistry. He worked, for example, on the analysis of bread and drinking water, tests for arsenic and antimony, forensic medicine, inorganic complexes, and organic chemistry.

Odling became a Fellow of the Chemical Society in 1848 and served as President of the Society in 1873–1875. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1859. William Odling died on February 17, 1921 in Oxford.

William Odling is the answer to Guess the Chemist (110).



Selected Publications

  • A course of practical chemistry, arranged for the use of medical students,
    W. Odling,
    Highley, London, 1854.
  • On the composition of bread,
    W. Odling,
    Lancet 1857, 137–138.
  • On the natural groupings of the elements,
    W. Odling,
    Phil. Mag. 1857, 13,  423–439.
  • On the nomenclature of organic compounds,
    W. Odling,
    Guy’s Hosp. Rep. 1862, 8, 278–288.
  • On animal chemistry. A course of six lectures,
    W. Odling,
    Chem. News 1865, 12, 30 ff.
  • On the platinum-ammonia compounds,
    W. Odling,
    Chem. News 1870, 21, 269–270.
  • On the last new metal, indium,
    W. Odling,
    Proc. Roy. Inst. 1872, 6, 386–401.

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