Yesterday, May 14, happened to be the birthday of someone very important to chemistry. Now don’t check the Interwebs until you try to guess who it is based on these clues.
I was born in 1872 in Asti, Italy to an Italian mother and Russian father.
My mother passed away when I was young and my father moved us to Lausanne, Switzerland.
I attended the University of Geneva, receiving a B.S. from the Department of Physics and Mathematics in 1893.
I decided to study botany for my graduate work, earning a doctorate in plant physiology in 1896.
After getting my Ph.D., I moved to St. Petersburg with my father and received a Master’s degree focusing on photosynthesis.
My seminal work was regarded as unsound by other prominent scientists of the time.
I came upon my most famous discovery by stirring hexane extracts of leaves with finely ground calcium carbonate in the hopes of neutralizing the acid components that would otherwise degrade the pigments.
I found that everything stuck to the carbonate, apart from carotene, and by adding progressively more ethanol to the carbonate I could controllably separate off the other components.
In 1906, I published my most important paper describing a separation method that involved pouring a plant extract onto the top of a column of dry calcium carbonate and then washing the components out by running solvent down the column.
“The pigments arrange themselves as a series of coloured zones … in which the more strongly adsorbed materials displace the more weakly held ones further down the column … I call this a chromatogram.”
I died of a chronic inflammation of the throat on June 26, 1919 at the age of 47.
For several reasons, my chromatography method fell into obscurity and was not fully recognized until 10 years after my death.
Did you guess? How many clues did you need before you realized who it is? Chromatography is now an indispensable tool for scientists in diverse fields of study and we owe it all to Mikhail Tsvet.