Albert Niemann (1834–1861) was a German chemist. He is best known for the discovery of cocaine (1.) (or rather its isolation in pure form, from coca leaves) (DOI:10.1002/ardp.18601530202), a feat which earned him his Ph.D. degree.

Albert Niemann

The same year, in 1860, during “experiments with ethylene and sulfur dichloride” (you know, casually mixing things, see-what-happens kind of attitude), he obtained bis(2-chloroethyl) sulfide (DOI:10.1002/jlac.18601130304), better known today as mustard gas (2.).

This before his 26th birthday. The wikipedia entry doesn’t say from what he died (3.). Does anybody know? (Did he go Charlie Sheen?)

How was your chemistry career doing when you were 26? 🙂


3 Responses to German chemist discovers cocaine, then mustard gas, then dies—at age 26

  1. CatalysisAlex says:

    In the swedish wiki-entry it is stated that the cause for his death is unknown.
    “Två år efter sin upptäckt avled han hastigt av okänd anledning.”

    Wonder if they had performed an autopsy on him, how some of his organs would have looked like. Then again, abuse of cocaine alone can lead to unexpected death as well….

    • Samuel Grady says:

      He died from his lungs filling with pus while in his laboratory. Around the same time, he discovered mustard gas. Mustard gas kills by damaging the lungs and causing suppuration. It seems fairly obvious that he was exposed to his invention and killed by it…

  2. Roger Williams says:

    Yeah, 14kg can do a lot of damage.

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