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Edward Frankland

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Sir Edward Frankland KCB, FRS (18 January 1825 – 9 August 1899).

Was an expert Chemist in water quality and analysis, and originated the concept of combining power, or valence, in chemistry.

He was also one of the originators of organometallic chemistry.[1]

1871-73 President of the Chemical Society. [2][3]

1900 Obituary [4]

SIR EDWARD FRANKLAND, K.C.B., D.C.L., LL.D., F.R.S., was born at Churchtown, near Lancaster, on the 18th January, 1825.

After receiving his early education at the Lancaster Grammar School, he studied chemistry under Playfair, in the laboratory of the Museum of Practical Geology, and there began, jointly with Kolbe, his first research, which dealt with the transformation of the cyanogen radicle into carboxyl. During 1847-48 he held the post of Science Master at Queenwood College, Hants.

In 1848 he went to Germany, where he continued his researches, first in Bunsen’s laboratory, at Marburg, and afterwards in that of Liebig, at Giessen.

In 1851 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at Owens College, Manchester, being the first occupant of the chair. After holding that position for nearly seven years he removed to London as head of the chemical department in the Medical School of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

In 1863 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, in succession to Faraday, and in l865 he followed Hofmann in the same capacity at the Royal College of Chemistry, a post which he held until his final retirement in 1885, although meanwhile the Institution had been merged in the Normal School of Science (now the Royal College of Science) and Royal School of Mines, and the chair had been transferred to South Kensington. Frankland‘s scientific work, as an inspection of his collected “Experimental Researches in Pure, Allied, and Physical Chemistry” will show, covers almost the entire field of chemical science.

In pure chemistry, one of his earliest researches, begun at Queenwood in 1847, dealt with the isolation of the alcohol radicles, the hypothetical hydrocarbon groups supposed to be contained in the alcohols and their derivatives. He succeeded in obtaining compounds of the expected composition; but the discovery lost much of its interest when it was recognised, by the application of Avogadro’s law to these compounds, that they had twice the molecular weight which Frankland originally assigned to them-thus his isolated radicle methyl proved to be identical with the hydrocarbon ethane. Incidentally, however, in the course of this work, he discovered the compounds of the alcohol radicles with zinc - zinc-methyl and its homologues - analogous to Bunsen's cacodyl. The method employed in their preparation was of general application, and numerous members of this class of organo metallic compounds, containing tin, lead, mercury and similar metals, were thus obtained by Frankland and other investigators. These substances were of great scientific interest, not merely on account of their remarkable physical properties and the numerous applications of which they showed themselves capable in chemical synthesis, but because the study of them led Frankland in 1852 to the enunciation of the law of valency (loc. cit.). This law, which states that the affinity of each atom is fully satisfied by combination with a fixed number of other atoms of a given kind, forms one of the foundation-stones of modern chemical theory.

Later on, he devoted himself more especially to the subject of chemical synthesis, and his researches on the synthesis of acids of the lactic series, of the acrylic series, of ethers, of fatty acids, and of ketones, belong to the recognised classics of organic chemistry. This work was carried out jointly with the late Mr. B. F. Duppa, F.R.S.

In the domain of physico-chemical research, one of Frankland's most important investigations dealt with the illuminating power of flames. He started with the intention of ascertaining whether the rate of combustion of substances was influenced by changes in atmospheric pressure, and for this purpose he burnt candles, determining their loss in weight per hour, first at Chamounix, and afterwards on the summit of Mont Blanc, where, in company with Professor Tyndall, he spent a night. The result of the experiment was to show that the rate of combustion in the two cases was practically the same, but that the illuminating power was greatly reduced at the reduced pressure. On his return to England, he proved by means of photometric experiments carried out with flames burnt under pressures which could be varied at will, that, up to two atmospheres, the illuminating power was directly proportional to the atmospheric pressure, but that above two atmospheres, it increased more rapidly than the pressure. At high pressures, flames which gave hardly any light under ordinary conditions, became strongly luminous; thus, under a pressure of from ten atmospheres to twenty atmospheres, a hydrogen flame became bright enough to read by. These observations, proving as they did that the illuminating power of flames was connected with their density, led Frankland to propound the view that the light emitted by hydro-carbon flames was due to the presence of ignited, very dense, vaporous hydro-carbons in the flame, instead of, as taught by Davy, to ignited particles of solid carbon. This view Frankland supported by many ingenious experiments and with great wealth of illustration; but, in later years, he somewhat receded from this position, and, in lecturing to students, was wont to admit that at least a portion of the light of such flames was produced in accordance with Davy’s view.

The retardation in the combustion of time fuses at great altitudes, which appeared to contradict the results Frankland had obtained with candles, was also explained by him in the memoir just referred to. He showed that substances which, like gunpowder, contained the oxygen necessary for their own combustion, would behave differently towards changes of pressure from those which obtained their oxygen from the air, the reduced pressure in the former case occasioning a rapid withdrawal of the burning gases from the fuse and consequently diminishing their chance of rapidly inflaming the still unburnt portion of the charge. Spectrum analysis for a time claimed Frankland’s attention. In a letter to Tyndall, written in 1861 and published in the Philosophical Magazine, he calls attention to the fact that at high temperatures a blue line makes its appearance in the lithium spectrum. This was, it is believed, the first observation of the variation of spectra with temperature. He also published, jointly with Mr. (now Sir) J. Norman Lockyer, various researches on gaseous spectra in relation to the physical constitution of the sun, stars, and nebula’ The heavy work connected with the Rivers Commission compelled him to discontinue this work, as, indeed, most of his other work in pure science.

In 1865 Frankland, Fick, and Wislicenus arranged an experiment to put to a crucial test the theory that the source of muscular power is the oxidation and destruction of the muscles themselves. They intended to confine themselves to a non-nitrogenous diet, and to ascend the Faulhorn, taking strict account of the greatest possible muscular oxidation by determining the amount of nitrogen expelled from the body of each person before, during, and after the ascent of the mountain. Frankland was prevented from taking part in the ascent, which was carried out by Fick and Wislicenus, but upon him devolved the subsequent laboratory analyses, as also certain calorimetric experiments to determine the heat values of different kinds of food. The result of the investigation was to show that the muscle is a machine, the energy of which is generated by the combustion of non-nitrogenous fuel, such as fats or carbo-hydrates.

Other physical investigations carried out by Frankland dealt with the subjects of the glacial period, climate, and solar intensity. This work was carried out during holiday rambles, chiefly in Switzerland and Norway. The material for a research into the nature and causes of dry fog was found nearer home. During dense London fogs the hygrometer frequently indicates that the air is far from being saturated with moisture. Frankland showed that if a drop of water is exposed, for even a very short time, to the action of coal smoke, its evaporation is enormously retarded, this effect being due to the invisible film of coal oil which forms on the surface of the drop; and he pointed out that this condition is present in the case of the minute globules of water which constitute a town fog, thus accounting both for the persistency and for the irritant quality of these familiar plagues. Frankland‘s earliest work in applied chemistry was carried out in 1861, just after his election to the chair of chemistry at the Owens College, Manchester, and consisted in an examination of a new process for the manufacture of an enriched water-gas. He devoted much attention to the question of the illuminating power of gas, and invented, in 1854, the earliest form of regenerative burner, an account of which was published in Ure’s “Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines.” It consisted of an Argand burner fitted with two concentric glass chimneys, the air supplied to the flame passing downwards between the two chimneys, and having its temperature thus raised to about 500” F. or 600’ F. before it reached the flame. This burner gave an increase of 67 per cent. in light, with an equal consumption of gas. He also devised, along with Mr. W. J. Ward, an improved apparatus for the analysis of gases, which combined the accuracy of Bunsen’s well-known process with a rapidity in working impossible by the older method. A simplified form of the same apparatus was afterwards used by Frankland in measuring the gases obtained in his 'combustion process' for determining carbon and nitrogen in water analysis.

Frankland was, however, best known, at least to the general public, as the greatest living authority on water-supply. His connection with this subject dated from 1865, when, in succeeding Hofmann at the Royal School of Mines, he undertook to continue, for the Registrar-General, the monthly analyses of the metropolitan waters which had been commenced a few months earlier by his predecessor. These monthly analytical reports he continued to furnish to the time of his death. In taking up this work, the processes of water analysis then known to chemists were brought under his notice; and he soon found that several of them were highly untrustworthy-especially those which had for their object the detection of pollution by sewage or animal matters. After a very laborious series of experiments, extending over about two years, in which he was joined by his then pupil, Professor H. E. Armstrong, he succeeded in devising processes by which the carbon and nitrogen of the polluting organic matter actually present in the water at the moment of analysis, and the nitrogen of previously existing animal matter, could be determined with accuracy.

In 1868 he was appointed a member of the second Royal Commission on the Pollution of Rivers and Domestic Water-Supply; and for carrying out the necessary investigations he was furnished by the Government with a specially equipped laboratory. The work of this Commission occupied him during six years, and the voluminous reports drawn up by him embodied an exhaustive discussion of the problems of water-supply. Amongst the subjects considered were: the chemical quality of water from different sources ; the possibility of rendering polluted water again wholesome ; the propagation of epidemic diseases by potable water; the alleged influence of the hardness of potable water upon health; the deterioration of water during its transmission through mains and service pipes; the quality of the London water-supply as derived respectively from the Thames, the Lee, the deep wells in the chalk and the shallow wells in the Metropolis. The shallow wells were of course unhesitatingly condemned ; but as regards the river supplies, although he was at first opposed to their use, yet latterly, when modern processes of filtration on a large scale, as practised by the Water Companies, became developed, and their purifying action was better understood, he changed his opinion, and, in a lecture delivered before the Royal Institution in 1896, declared unhesitatingly in favour of the Thames as a source of water-supply for London.

After his retirement from his professorship, Frankland busied himself, amongst other things, with investigating the chemistry of storage batteries, on which subject he published three Papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The electric installation at his residence, at Reigate, included a battery of accumulators constructed on a system of his own.

In addition to his numerous researches, Frankland published “Lecture Notes for Chemical Students.” In these he employed a new chemical notation he had devised which expressed, in a very compendious form, the constitution of the various compounds. The system has not been adopted by chemists, the reason being that for inorganic chemistry it was hardly required, while for the rapidly expanding science of organic chemistry it did not prove sufficiently elastic.

Frankland was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1853, and a corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1866. He was also a foreign member of the Academies of Bavaria, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Upsala, America and Bohemia. Oxford conferred on him the degree of D.C.L. in 1873, and Edinburgh that of LL.D. in 1884. He was President of the Chemical Society in 1871, first President of the Institute of Chemistry in 1877, and Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society from 1895 to the time of his death. The latter Society awarded him a Royal Medal - the highest distinction of that kind in its gift-in 1894. In 1895, on the occasion of Her Majesty’s Jubilee, he was made a K.C.B.

He was twice married, first, in 1851, to Sophie, daughter of Herr F. W. Fick, Chief Engineer to the Electorate of Hessen- Cassel, and secondly, in 1877, to Ellen Frances, eldest daughter of Mr. C. K. Grenside, of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law. She also predeceased him. Dr. Percy Frankland, F.R.S., Professor of Chemistry in the Mason University College, Birmingham, well known for his researches on optically active compounds and on the chemical action of micro-organisms, is the second son of the first marriage.

Sir Edward Frankland died, after a very brief illness, on the 9th August, 1899, in Norway, where, for many years, he had been in the habit of spending his summer holidays, in the pursuit of his favourite sport of salmon fishing. His death preceded by a week that of his old teacher, Bunsen.

Frankland’s fame, doubtless, will ultimately rest on his contributions to pure chemistry. In spite of the enormous practical importance of the advances which he made in the methods and conclusions of sanitary science, this work is, from its very nature, liable to be superseded; and even the parts which survive are ultimately incorporated, without acknowledgment, with the work of others. But the man who has discovered a new law of nature, and has enriched chemistry with some of the most extraordinary substances known to it, has secured a place in the history of science from which no changes of fashion can oust him.

He was elected an Honorary Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 9th January, 1894, on the ground that by his distinguished attainments, his long and extensive experience of the chemical aspect of works of water-supply and sewage-treatment, and his consistent and disinterested advocacy of the supply of water of a high standard of purity, he had helped to advance the objects of the Institution.

1899 Obituary [5]

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