Friday, May 16, 2014

Book: "Classics in Coordination Chemistry Part I"

I mentioned Alfred Werner's name several times on this blog. I also wrote a separate blog post about him here. That will definitely be the first one not the last one!

One of the book I have just finished reading is Classics in Coordination Chemistry Part I and I want to start with the Preface here.

Occasionally, one man will play such a central and monopolistic role in a particular field of science that his name virtually becomes synonymous with that field. Alfred Werner, the undisputed founder of coordination chemistry, is just a man.

Not surprisingly, the book was dedicated to Alfred Werner whose name can still be seen in many recent inorganic chemistry publications. I learned that he was called "inorganic Kekule" and he published 174 publications and 45 of them were actually on organic chemistry. The book consists of 6 publications of him.

The first "paper" (chapter) starts with a legendary tale; how he woke up one night at 2 AM and started writing the "coordination theory" until 5 PM!

It is like a journey in history of science to read his papers. You can often see how strongly he advocates his theory. 

"...the metal atoms must posses the property of binding six such residues."
"The Blomstrand-Jorgensen view of metal-ammonia salts can in no way explain this peculiar transition of basic metal-ammonia radicals to similar complexes acting as acids, and therefore this theory seems to me to be untenable."
 "...all water molecules, and all acid residues are bound directly to the metal atom, since otherwise the relationships of these compounds to one another cannot be explained."

Paper Five in the book is especially important as the author explains in detail. The year that this paper came out was also the year that he published 27 other papers. He wrote to his Ph.D. adviser:
 " I must search around for a new, larger subject...for the investigation of the metal-ammines has succeeded to such an extent that I can no longer hope for really new results."
The optical activity of carbon was known and accepted. This was one of the reasons that his opponents challenged him despite his data and evidence. They suggested that the optical activity was due to carbon atoms in the molecules. But in 1914 he published a paper on a  metal complex that did not have a single carbon atom. Finally, there were no objections. 

"The proof that molecules of optically active compounds do not absolutely have to contain carbon is of importance because with such a proof the difference still existing between carbon compounds and purely inorganic compounds disappears.

Therefore I have occupied myself for quite some time with proving this and have now reached the goal
       ... proof is that carbon-free inorganic compounds can also exist as mirror image    isomers. "
In this paper he prepared "dodecammine-hexol-tetracobalti salts." 

I think the importance of the book is that it makes you realize how much time, effort and thinking he put into his studies. It's not just he went and did some experiments and figured out the coordination. It is actually THE WAY he did it.  Only then can you understand what a genius he was. Despite the lack of analytical equipment and technique and the pressure from the biggest names and their followers ( Kekule, Jorgensen, Gay-Lussac, Liebig, Berzelius etc.), he defended his ideas with MORE EXPERIMENTS and more EVIDENCE. Jorgensen, in particular, tried to discredit Werner's work several times. I think this is what makes Werner really special that he did his studies by careful planning and in a systematic method y and he finally proved everyone that he was right!

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