Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry 1906 - 1910

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry from 1906 to 1910 including Moissan, Rutherford, and Ostwald, what they won for, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.


1906 Henri Moissan (1852-1907), French. Work: Isolated the element fluorine, and developed the electric furnace.

Behind the Award--The name of Frenchman Marcelin Berthelot had been suggested nearly every year, to honor his rank as one of the founders of 19th-century thermochemistry. He had, in fact, won Britain's Davy Medal, awarded by the Royal Society. But the Academy's 1906 nominees included another Frenchman, 25 years younger, whose accomplishments were more current: Moissan. The case for Mendeleev, discoverer of the periodic table, had been seriously damaged when one member of the Chemistry Committee eloquently pointed out that Mendeleev's work had been derived from that of Cannizzaro. To honor Mendeleev, he noted, without also crediting Cannizzaro would be unfair. Put to the vote in the chemistry section of the Academy, Mendeleev was scrapped and Moissan squeaked by on a split decision, 5-4. Berthelot's age had been a consideration in passing him over. Ironically, both Berthelot and Moissan died in the following year.

1907 Eduard Buchner (1860-1917), German. Work: Discovered cell-free fermentation.

1908 Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), British. Work: Investigated the artificial disintegration of the elements and the chemistry of radioactive substances.

Behind the Award--The groundwork of Rutherford's research in radioactivity revolutionized scientific thinking in both the physics and chemistry disciplines. But his nomination again brought the Arrhenius dilemma of 1903 to the surface: for physics? Or chemistry? There was a strong backing for Gabriel Lippmann in physics, for his photographic method to reproduce colors by an interference technique. Yet Rutherford could not be overlooked. He had earned a reputation as one of the greatest scientists of all time. The 2 committees met to review the work for which he had been nominated, and unanimously decided that it could be rated as of greater importance to future chemical research than to the field of physics. They ignored the fact that Rutherford's experimentation to determine the nature of alpha radiation employed techniques ordinarily those of a physicist, not a chemist. His concept of the atom, later developed more fully by Niels Bohr, laid the foundation for studies in nuclear physics. The device used for counting the alpha particles, codeveloped with H. Geiger, was basically a physicist's tool. Nevertheless, the vote was cast to honor the New Zealand-born director of the physical laboratory at the University of Manchester, England, in chemistry instead.

1909 Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1931), German. Work: Redefined catalysis and the conditions for chemical equilibrium and velocities in chemical reactions.

Behind the Award--Both Van't Hoff and Arrhenius received their just recognition by the Academy almost with the inception of the prizes. A 3rd great scientist, Ostwald, who was also responsible for the rapid rise of the new discipline, physical chemistry, had to wait. Of the 3 men, Ostwald's published works gave greater impetus to universal acceptance of physical chemistry theories, but Nobel rules forbid an award as a general recognition of overall excellence. When his definitive discoveries in catalysis and the related researches were made public, the German could no longer be shunted aside, having qualified without reservation. Moreover, the Academy could once again turn to physical chemistry for its winner without being accused of favoritism toward it, since in the years intervening since 1903, other branches of chemistry had been acknowledged.

1910 Otto Wallach (1847-1931), German. Work: Pioneered research into the field of alicyclic substances.

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