Friedrich Wohler

Friedrich Wohler (left)In science, Friedrich Wohler (1800-1882) was a German chemist noted for his 1828 synthesis of urea, an undoubtedly “organic” molecule, starting from ammonium cyanate, which was then considered to be an “inorganic”, or at least “nonliving”, as Francis Crick retrospectively described things, chemical. [1] In his “On the Artificial Formulation of Urea” Wohler stated: [2]

“This investigation has yielded an unanticipated result that reaction of cyanic acid with ammonia gives urea, a noteworthy result in as much as it provides an example of the artificial production of an organic, indeed a so-called animal, substance from inorganic substances.”

Wohler was a student of Swedish chemist Jacob Berzelius, author of Animal Chemistry (1806), who, prior to Wohler's discovery, was of the mindset that organic atoms, in contrast to inorganic atoms, were responsive to vital force. [3]

The fact that Wohler specifically made urea, a supposed “living chemical” (chemical responsive to the vital force) or chemical of living things, from non-living components, specifically from: dried blood, hoofs, and horns, brought into question the then-dominant vital force theory of “organic chemistry”. [1]

Organic | Inorganic life
Wohler’s urea synthesis thus disproved the then-dominate theory that only organic matter (living matter or technically “vital force” infused matter could produce organic matter or organic life (in contrast to inorganic life). While Wohler's urea synthesis effectively disproved the vital force theory of organic chemistry, the organic/inorganic or more to the point "organic life"/"inorganic life" divide still exists in the minds of many, particularly in regards to the modern day origin of life question.

American writer Edgar Poe’s 1944 short story “Mesmeric Revelation” gives a glimpse into the organic life/inorganic life mindset during this period. [4]

1. Crick, Francis. (1967). Of Molecules and Men (pgs. 17-18). University of Washington Press.
2. Wohler, Friedrich. (1828). “On the Artificial Formulation of Urea”, J.C. Poggendorff's Annalen der Physik und Chemie, 88: 253.
3. Scott, George P. (1985). Atoms of the Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will (pgs. 67, 92, 95). University Press of America.
4. Poe, Edgar A. (1944). “Mesmeric Revelation”, Columbian Magazine, July.

External links
‚óŹ Friedrich Wöhler – Wikipedia.

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