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Molecular World: Making Modern Chemistry

Molecular World: Making Modern Chemistry

Current price: $75.00
Publication Date: July 4th, 2023
The MIT Press
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A compelling and innovative account that reshapes our view of nineteenth-century chemistry, explaining a critical period in chemistry’s quest to understand and manipulate organic nature.

According to existing histories, theory drove chemistry’s remarkable nineteenth-century development. In Molecular World, Catherine M. Jackson shows instead how novel experimental approaches combined with what she calls “laboratory reasoning” enabled chemists to bridge wet chemistry and abstract concepts and, in so doing, create the molecular world. Jackson introduces a series of practice-based breakthroughs that include chemistry’s move into lampworked glassware, the field’s turn to synthesis and subsequent struggles to characterize and differentiate the products of synthesis, and the gradual development of institutional chemical laboratories, an advance accelerated by synthesis and the dangers it introduced.

Jackson’s historical reassessment emerges from the investigation of alkaloids by German chemists Justus Liebig, August Wilhelm Hofmann, and Albert Ladenburg. Stymied in his own research, Liebig steered his student Hofmann into pioneering synthesis as a new investigative method. Hofmann’s practice-based laboratory reasoning produced a major theoretical advance, but he failed to make alkaloids. That landmark fell to Ladenburg, who turned to cutting-edge theory only after his successful synthesis.

In telling the story of these scientists and their peers, Jackson reveals organic synthesis as the ground chemists stood upon to forge a new relationship between experiment and theory—with far-reaching consequences for chemistry as a discipline.

About the Author

Catherine M. Jackson is Associate Professor of the History of Science at the University of Oxford, Peck Fellow in History at Harris Manchester College, and Director of the Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology.

Praise for Molecular World: Making Modern Chemistry

“It will change the discussion of 19th century chemistry forever.”
—Gary Patterson, Bulletin for the History of Chemistry

“…many historians have stressed the role of theory in organic chemistry. But Catherine Jackson emphasizes experimental reasoning.” 
—Andrew Robinson, Nature

“Jackson has written a history that takes into account not only instruments and experimental methods but also detailed theoretical chemical knowledge and even personal and institutional context. Many authors highlight the importance of practice in chemistry, but only a few can provide such a detailed look into laboratory reasoning that the readers can truly realize this importance for themselves.”
—Sarah Hijmans, H-Net Reviews

“Careful, precise, and well documented in extensive notes and a rich bibliography, this book will be valuable for decades to come."”