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Vol. 35 No. 2
March-April 2013

Stamps International |

See also www.iupac.org/publications/ci/indexes/stamps.html


Vauquelin’s 250

Nicolas Louis Vauquelin (1763–1829) was undoubtedly one of the most versatile and accomplished chemists of the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, even though he may not be as well-known today as some of his contemporaries, such as Berzelius, Dalton, Davy, or Gay-Lussac. He was born 250 years ago in the small village of Saint-André-d’Hébertot in the region of Lower Normandy in northwest France, not far from the beaches that were used as landing sites on D-Day during World War II. Despite a humble upbringing, his ingenuity and diligence led to a remarkable career that conspicuously included the discovery of the elements chromium (1797) and beryllium (1798). He also held several academic positions, including simultaneous professorships at the School of Public Works (i.e., the renowned École Polytechnique near Paris) and the School of Mines, where he analyzed the chemical composition of dozens of minerals and gemstones. He was appointed professor of chemistry at the Collège de France in 1801 and director of the newly founded School of Pharmacy in 1803. The following year he became professor of applied chemistry at the Museum of Natural History and in 1811 he succeeded Antoine François de Fourcroy (1755–1809), his longtime mentor, research collaborator, and business partner, at the School of Medicine.

Vauquelin certainly had a wide range of interests that extended way beyond the fields of mineralogy and metallurgy. In 1806, with the assistance of Pierre Jean Robiquet (future discoverer of the red dye alizarin and the alkaloid codeine), he obtained from asparagus juice a white crystalline compound that he named asparagine, which was the first amino acid to be isolated in pure form. He also investigated the respiration of insects and published several papers on medical subjects, ranging from the composition of urinary stones and the human brain to the chemical properties of hair and semen.

While the postage stamp illustrated in this note was issued in 1963 on the occasion of Vauquelin’s 200th birth anniversary, it remains to be seen if La Poste will honor the eminent chemist once again this year. In the meantime, readers of Chemistry International may enjoy knowing that a flavored egg white foam microwaved for a few seconds, a dessert created by molecular gastronomist Hervé This, is called a Vauquelin!

Written by Daniel Rabinovich <drabinov@uncc.edu>.


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