Some Biogeographers, Evolutionists and Ecologists:
Chrono-Biographical Sketches

Liebig, Justus von (Germany 1803-1873)

Liebig was one of the nineteenth century's front-rank chemists, both for his leading work in developing the fields of organic chemistry and agricultural chemistry, and for his efforts on behalf of the professionalization of the science. Two of Liebig's discoveries (which actually had been reported earlier by Sprengel, receiving little attention at that time) also represent critical elements of modern ecological theory. First, Liebig helped debunk the commonly held notion that plant fertility was due only to organic substances, showing that minerals, water, and atmospheric gases were of primary import, and thus paving the way for all manner of physiological ecology-related environmental studies. Liebig also introduced the "law of the minimum," the idea that agricultural crop yield is directly related to the least available critical nutrient, whatever that may be in a particular instance. The limiting factor concept would prove a central theme in the development of ecological theory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Life Chronology

--born in Darmstadt, Germany, on 12 May 1803.
--1820: enters University of Bonn to study chemistry
--1821-1822: studies chemistry at the University of Erlangen under Kastner
--1822: Ph.D. in absentia, University of Erlangen
--1823-1824: studies chemistry in Paris
--1823: presents work on fulminates to the French Academy of Sciences
--1824: appointed extraordinary professor of chemistry, University of Giessen
--1826-1851: ordinary professor of chemistry, University of Giessen
--1829-1839: involved in organic chemistry studies
--1832: takes over the Annalen der Pharmacie
--1832: discovers the benzoyl radical, with Friedrich Wöhler
--1840: receives the Copley medal from the Royal Society of London
--1840: publishes his Die Organische Chemie in Ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie [English transl.]
--1840: Annalen der Pharmacie renamed Organische Chemie in Ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie
--1842: publishes his Die Organische Chemie in Ihrer Anwendung auf Physiologie und Pathologie
--1845: made a baron
--1845-1849: experiments with plants and nitrogen absorption
--1852-1873: holds the ordinary chair of chemistry at the University of Munich
--1859: elected to the German Academy of Naturalists Leopoldina
--1859: president, Bavarian Academy of Sciences
--dies at Munich, Germany, on 18 April 1873.

For Additional Information, See:

--Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 8 (1973).
--Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists, 2nd Ed., Vol. 2 (1994).
--Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 15 (1938): 553-562.
--Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 132(1) (1988): 1-66.
--The Emergence of Agricultural Science: Justus Liebig and the Americans, 1840-1880 (1975).
--Justus von Liebig: The Chemical Gatekeeper (1997).
--Justus von Liebig, His Life and Work (1803-1873) (1895).

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Copyright 2005 by Charles H. Smith. All rights reserved.

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