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Viktor Meyer

Viktor Meyer

Viktor Meyer
BornSeptember 8 1848
Berlin, Germany
DiedAugust 8 1897 (aged 48)
Heidelberg, Germany
ResidenceGermany, Switzerland
InstitutionsPolytechnikum of Stuttgart,
Polytechnikum of Zurich,
University of Heidelberg,
University of Göttingen
Alma materUniversity of Heidelberg
Academic advisor  Robert Bunsen,
Emil Erlenmeyer
Notable students  Traugott Sandmeyer

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.


Early life

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:

1867 Assistant at the laboratory of Robert Bunsen, analyzing mineral water for the government of Baden and helping students preparing their examinations
1868 Studying organic chemistry at the Gewerbe-Akademie in Berlin, guided by Adolf von Baeyer (until 1871)
1871 Position as Professor extraordinarius of organic chemistry at the Polytechnikum of Stuttgart, allowed without habilitation
1872 Position as Professor ordinarius at the Polytechnikum of Zurich
1885 Position at the University of Göttingen, occupying the famous Chair of Friedrich Wöhler
1889 Taking over the Chair of Robert Bunsen at the University of Heidelberg; Meyer was requested (by Bunsen) to take this position in 1888, but only complied after a second request in 1889

He was also a student of Robert bunsen, and his father was Julius Meyer Scientific contributions:

  • Synthesis of aromatic carboxylic acids from sulfonic acid and formiates (1869).
  • 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.
  • Proposing glucose is an aldehyde and not a ketone, hereby correcting von Baeyer and van't Hoff (1880).
  • Synthesis of aldoximes and ketoximes from hydroxylamine and aldehydes or ketones, hereby discovering a new structural identification and elucidation method (1882, together with Alois Janny).
  • Identification of thiophene as a contaminant in benzene derived from coal (1882). Benzene produced by decarboxylation of benzoic acid did not contain this impurity.
  • 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.
  • Discovery of iodonium compounds by reacting iodobenzene and iodosobenzene (1894).


Meyer wrote several notable books:

  • Tabellen zur qualitativen Analyse (1884, written together with Frederick Treadwell)
  • Pyrochemische Untersuchungen (1885)
  • Die Thiophengruppe (1888)
  • Chemische Probleme der Gegenwart (1890)
  • Ergebnisse und Ziele der Stereochemischen Forschung (1890)
  • Lehrbuch der organischen Chemie (1893, written together with Paul Jacobson. A very popular book at the time that has been reprinted and reedited several times)
  • Märztage im kanarischen Archipel, ein Ferienausflug nach Teneriffa und Las Palmas (1893, travel guide)

See also

  • Victor Meyer apparatus: In a demonstration in Cohen's Practical Organic Chemistry (1910) the molar mass of diethyl ether was determined experimentally at 72 g/mol and that for aniline 93 g/mol.

Further reading

  • Richard Meyer. Victor Meyer. Leben und Wirken eines deutschen Chemikers und Naturforschers,1848-1897 (Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, 1917) (note: Richard Meyer is Victor Meyer's brother).


  • W Pötsch. Lexikon bedeutender Chemiker (VEB Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig, 1989) (ISBN 3-8171-1055-3)
  • E von Lippmann. Zeittafeln zur Geschichte der organischen Chemie (Julius Springer, 1921)
  • G Bugge. Das Buch der grossen Chemiker (Verlag Chemie GmbH, 1955)
  • G. M. Richardson (1897). "Obituary (for Viktor Meyer)". Journal of the American Chemical Society 19 (11): 918 - 921. doi:10.1021/ja02085a010.
  • Richard Meyer (1908). "Victor Meyer. 1848 - 1897". Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft 41 (3): 4505-4718. doi:10.1002/cber.190804103190.
  • G. Lunge (1897). "Victor Meyer". Zeitschrift für Angewandte Chemie 10 (24): 777 - 779. doi:10.1002/ange.18970102402.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Viktor_Meyer". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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