Author Scheele Carl Wilhelm

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Carl Wilhelm Scheele (9 December 1742 – 21 May 1786) was a German-Swedish pharmaceutical chemist. Isaac Asimov called him "hard-luck Scheele" because he made a number of chemical discoveries before others who are generally given the credit. For example, Scheele discovered oxygen (although Joseph Priestley published his findings first), and identified molybdenum, tungsten, barium, and chlorine before Humphry Davy. Scheele was born in Stralsund, Western Pomerania, Germany (at the time under Swedish rule). Instead of becoming a carpenter like his father, Scheele decided to become a pharmacist. His career as a pharmacist began with his apprenticeship at an apothecary in Gothenburg when he was only fourteen years old. He retained this position for eight years before becoming an apothecary's clerk in Malmö. Then Scheele worked as a pharmacist in Stockholm, from 1770-1775 in Uppsala, and later in Köping. In 1776, he was able to establish his own pharmacy, which he had purchased from the previ


ous owner's widow named alacia. The two married, but Scheele died 48 hours later because of natural reasons. By the time he was a teenager, Scheele had learned the dominant theory of gases in the 1770s, the phlogiston theory. Phlogiston, classified as "matter of fire", was supposed to be released from any burning material, and when it was exhausted, combustion would stop.. When Scheele discovered oxygen he called it "fire air" because it supported combustion, but he explained oxygen using phlogistical terms because he did not believe that his discovery disproved the phlogiston theory. Before Scheele made his discovery of oxygen, he studied air. Air was thought to be an element that made up the environment in which chemical reactions took place but did not interfere with the reactions. Scheele's investigation of air enabled him to conclude that air was a mixture of "fire air" and "foul air;" in other words, a mixture of two gases. He performed numerous experiments in which he burned substances such as saltpeter (potassium nitrate), manganese dioxide, heavy metal nitrates, silver carbonate and mercuric oxide. In all of these experiments, he isolated gas with the same properties; his "fire air," which he believed combined with phlogiston to be released during heat-releasing reactions. However, his first publication , A Chemical Treatise on Air and Fire, was not released until 1777, at which time both Joseph Priestley and Lavoisier had already published their experimental data and conclusions concerning oxygen and the phlogiston theory. Historians of science no longer question the role of Carl Scheele in the overturning of the phlogiston theory. It is generally accepted that he was the first to discover oxygen, among a number of prominent scientists (namely his esteemed colleagues Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Black, and Joseph Priestley). In fact, it was determined that Scheele made the discovery three years prior to Priestley and at least several before Lavoisier. Joseph Priestley relied heavily on Scheele's work, perhaps so much so that he would not have made the discovery of oxygen on his own. Correspondence between Lavoisier and Scheele indicate that Scheele achieved interesting results without the advanced laboratory equipment that Lavoisier was accustomed to. Through the studies of Lavoisier, Joseph Priestley, Scheele, and others, chemistry was made a standardized field with consistent procedures. Although Scheele was unable to grasp the significance of his discovery of oxygen, his work was essential for the invalidation of the long-held theory of phlogiston. Scheele's study of the gas not yet named oxygen was sparked by a complaint by Torbern Olof Bergman. Bergman informed Scheele that the saltpeter he purchased from Scheele's employer produced red vapors when it came into contact with acid. Scheele's quick explanation for the vapors led Bergman to suggest that Scheele analyze the properties of manganese dioxide. It was through his studies with manganese dioxide that Scheele developed his concept of "fire air." He ultimately obtained oxygen by heating mercuric oxide, silver carbonate, magnesium nitrate, and saltpeter. Scheele wrote about his findings to Lavoisier who was able to grasp the significance of the results. In addition to his joint recognition for the discovery of oxygen, Scheele is argued to have been the first to discover other chemical elements such as barium (1774), manganese (1774), molybdenum (1778), and tungsten (1781), as well as several chemical compounds, including citric acid, lactic acid, glycerol, hydrogen cyanide (also known, in aqueous solution, as prussic acid), hydrogen fluoride, and hydrogen sulfide. In addition, he discovered a process similar to pasteurization, along with a means of mass-producing phosphorus (1769), leading Sweden to become one of the world's leading producers of matches. Scheele made one other very important scientific discovery in 1774, arguably more revolutionary than his isolation of oxygen. He identified lime, silica, and iron, in a specimen of pyrolusite given to him by his friend, Johann Gottlieb Gahn, but could not identify an additional component. When he treated the pyrolusite with hydrochloric acid over a warm sand bath, a yellow-green gas with a strong odor was produced. He found that the gas sank to the bottom of an open bottle and was denser than ordinary air. He also noted that the gas was not soluble in water. It turned corks a yellow color and removed all color from wet, blue litmus paper and some flowers. He called this gas with bleaching abilities, "dephlogisticated muriatic acid" (dephlogisticated hydrochloric acid). Eventually, Sir Humphry Davy named the gas chlorine.

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