1881-1965

Hermann Staudinger

Location: Second Floor, West Wing, South Wall, Sequence 10

Source: Chemical Heritage Foundation


Staudinger can rightly be regarded as the father of macromolecular chemistry. He was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his pioneering work in this field. But the award came late, at age 72 and two years after he retired, and 35 years after he had initiated work in this field. This was because Staudinger had to overcome strong resistance to his ideas. The organic chemistry establishment at the time regarded "high molecular compounds" (as they were then called) as colloidal aggregates of low molecular weight compounds; even proteins, carbohydrates and rubber were viewed similarly. By using all available means of molecular weight determination (solution viscosity, end-group analysis, osmotic pressure, cryoscopic methods, and others) Staudinger was able to prove that natural rubber, polystyrene, polyoxymethylene and other polymers consist of long chain molecules, not aggregates.

Staudinger's most noteworthy nonpolymer research was on ketenes, summarized in his 1912 (and still readable) book "Die Ketene". He also worked on the natural insecticides, the pyrethrins, on a pepper substitute, and with Reichstein (see portrait), on the odor constituents of coffee.

Staudinger was born in Worms, Germany and obtained the Ph.D. at Munich (1903). After positions at the universities of Strasbourg, Karlsruhe and the ETH (Zurich), he became in 1926 the Director of Chemical Laboratories at the University of Freiburg; he remained there until retirement. Although never greatly interested in industrial processes, Staudinger laid the foundation for the giant plastics industry of today.