Viktor Meyer (8 September, 1848 – 8 August, 1897) was a German chemist and significant contributor to both organic and inorganic chemistry. He is best known for inventing an apparatus for determining vapour densities, the Viktor Meyer apparatus, and for discovering thiophene, a heterocyclic compound. He is sometimes referred to as Victor Meyer, a name used in some of his publications.
Viktor Meyer was born in Berlin in 1848, the son of trader and cotton printer Jacques Meyer and mother, Bertha. His parents were Jewish, though he was not actively raised in the Jewish faith. Later, he was confirmed in the reformed Jewish Church. He married a Christian woman, Hedwig Davidson, and raised his children as such. He entered the gymnasium at the age of ten in the same class as his two-year older brother Richard. Although he had excellent science skills his wish to become an actor was based on his love for poetry. At a visit from his brother Richard, who was studying chemistry at the University of Heidelberg, he became attracted to chemistry.
Work and education
In 1865, when not even 17 years old but pushed by his parents, Meyer began studying chemistry at the University of Berlin, the same year that August Wilhelm von Hofmann succeeded Eilhard Mitscherlich as the Chair of Chemistry there. After one semester, Meyer went to Heidelberg to work under Robert Bunsen, where he also heard lectures on organic chemistry by Emil Erlenmeyer. As no research was required under Bunsen at the time, Meyer received his doctorate in 1867, at the age of 19. This opened the doors to a very successful career in which he became one of the most important chemists of his time. He stayed one year with Bunsen for an area wide analysis of spring water. Besides this he was also able to teach some PhD students. In Berlin he joined the group of Adolf Baeyer, one of his best friends in later life, changing from inorganic chemistry to organic chemistry. At the age of 23 Baeyer sent him to Stuttgart at a request from Fehling for a student capable to be a lecturer at the University.
Overworked and overtaxed, Meyer's nervous system suffered, leading to several minor and major nervous breakdowns during the last years of his life. He always failed to recover completely, yet continued working. He took pills to fall asleep, but these had a damaging effect on his nervous system. In one of his depressions, Meyer decided to take his own life, and committed suicide by taking cyanide. He died at the age of 49 during the night of August 7 - August 8 1897 in Heidelberg. It was a shock to others as Meyer was considered a highly gifted scientist by his colleagues, and a very talented teacher by his students.
Meyer's professional career:
Assistant at the laboratory of Robert Bunsen, analyzing mineral water for the government of Baden and helping students preparing their examinations
Nitroalkanes from alkyl iodides and silver nitrite (1872).
Development of a method to distinguish primary, secondary and tertiary nitroalkanes (1875).
Starting with studying physical chemistry in 1876, Meyer created a new method for determining gas density in 1878. This method allowed him to demonstrate how arsenious oxide vapours corresponded to the formula As4O6, that mercury, zinc and cadmium yielded monatomic vapours, and that halogen molecules dissociated into atoms on heating, a phenomenon which he studied until his death. The Victor Meyer apparatus accurately measures the volume of a volatilized substance from which the vapor density of the gas can be derived and also the relative mass.
First reliable synthesis of pure sulfur mustard (1886, also see Meyer's account on sulfur mustard)
Coining of the concepts of stereochemistry and dipole in 1888. Meyer had always been interested in stereochemical problems and was one of the first ones to instruct his pupils with van't Hoff's theory of asymmetric carbon and the Hantzsch-Werner theory.
Discovery of iodoso compounds in 1892 by reacting o-iodobenzoic acid with nitric acid.
Observation (1892) that ortho-substituted benzoic acid derivatives are esterified with difficulty. This principle is now known as the Victor Meyer esterification law and was discovered in an attempt to esterify o-iodosobenzoic acid.