by iampunha | 8/20/2008 08:00:00 AM
Generations of high school students have had to suffer because of this man. "Oh, sure," they'll tell you, "he accomplished a lot in his lifetime. The world changed because of him. But for the better?"

As they toil day after day in school, and night after night at home, all because of how Adolf changed our world, there is no respect for the mountain of scholarship he gave us.

There is no acknowledgment of what the civilized world would be without Adolf.

... wait, what?

Oh. Silly me.

On Aug. 20, 1917, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer died.

For Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who stood up for what was right and was murdered for it.

If you've ever tested an unknown substance to see if it was an acid or a base, you've used phenolphthalein, arguably the most annoying characteristic of which is that you have to spell it correctly at least once before you get to write "phph." (On the other hand, if your chemistry teacher is so stupid as to impose a page minimum on your lab reports, you just refer back to phenolphthalein a bunch of times. That's like half a line in a lab book.)

And in using phph (yeah, like I'm typing it again), you've encountered one of von Baeyer's most famous inventions:

Phenolphthalein is synthesized by condensation of phthalic anhydride with two equivalents of phenol under acidic conditions (hence the name). It was discovered in 1871 by Adolf von Baeyer.

Truly, a useful substance.

But today's honoree has two greater claims to fame, each more hilarious than the last.

The first ... OK. Keeping a straight face here.

I don't know who invented the concept that "You're such a snot, you think your shit smells like roses," but von Baeyer ...

Indol consists of shiny white laminae, which, however, soon assume a dark color under the influence of light and air. They melt at 52°, b. p. 253 to 254° (corr.). It is readily soluble in hot water and is volatile with water vapor. The common commercial article has an exceedingly disagreable, fecal odor. It is only when carefully purified that a product is obtained the odor of which is not decidedly disagreable and which when properly diluted reveals a floral odor.

He made it:

Indole was first obtained by Baeyer by distilling with zinc dust, either oxindole, C4H4CH2NHCO, or the product obtained by reducing indigo with tin and hydrochloric acid.

But it gets better yet. See, indole smells like shit unless you manage it right:

At high dilution indole has a pleasant odor and is used in perfumery. Indole sticks around for ages and can be thought of as a fixative or base note in perfume. Apparently, it actually turns up in jasmine and orange blossom, of all things. I take this on faith, because the only times I’ve smelled indole in my lab, it’s been not-so-dilute, and I was wishing for that mediciney urinal cake smell to cover things up.

I say this to inform, not to encourage all of you to go watering down your shit and waiting for it to smell like flowers. See, you might (if you were truly foul, or a scientist) go using your other natural waste product, which would make you only a von Baeyer copycat:

A German chemist, Adolph von Baeyer, founder of what was to become the Bayer Chemical Co., who in 1905 won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, happened in for some celebrating of his own. It was on that day that he had synthesized "malonylurea" from a reaction of urea with malonic acid, a chemical found in apples. No one knows exactly what he was trying to accomplish, but malonylurea became known as "Barbituric acid", making St. Barbara Day even more important!

What he was trying to accomplish, I'd bet, was "Hey, I wonder what happens when ..."

And what happened when?

In 1903, Fischer and von Mering were the first to synthesize a therapeutically active "barbiturate" by substituting two ethyl groups for two hydrogens attached to carbon. When they administered this new barbiturate to human subjects, the compound was found to induce sleep. The term for a drug that causes sleep induction is known as a somnolent or a hypnotic.

Later on (as the article explains), we got Valium and Halcion. We also got these puppies.

So Adolf von Baeyer gave us headaches in chemistry class, the perfume of the girl we (or at least I) fantasized about in class and the drugs her parents were doing back in the day.

(He also gave us a lot of other things. I just think the trio of phenolphthalein, indol and barbituric acid is too funny to pass up.)

Case Study: Barbiturates (1969 drug-scare film)