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Alfred Werner

Alfred WernerBorn: 12-Dec-1866
Birthplace: Mülhausen, Alsace, Germany
Died: 15-Nov-1919
Location of death: Zürich, Switzerland
Cause of death: Illness [1]

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist

Nationality: Switzerland
Executive summary: Coordination theory of chemistry

Military service: German Army (1885-86 in Karlsruhe)

Swiss chemist Alfred Werner is regarded as a founding father of modern inorganic stereochemistry. In 1893 he proposed a new theory of variable valence, describing the molecular structure of inorganic compounds as consisting of a central atom surrounded by a three-dimensional arrangement of a specific number of other atoms, molecules, ions, or radicals, all governed by simple geometrical principles. He said that he had woken in the middle of the night with a sudden realization of the answer to the riddle of molecular structure, began writing at once, and continued writing until dawn, providing the first correct analysis of the structures for coordination compounds containing complex ions.

He introduced the more fully-realized Coordination theory of chemistry in 1901, and published an influential book on the subject in 1904. Though widely rejected by scientists for several years, his theory led to better explanations of the properties of observed compounds, and it gained acceptance as Warner and his students were able to identify dozens of previously unknown compounds and synthesize dozens more. In 1905 he offered a reorganization of the periodic table, moving the lanthanide elements ("rare earths" with atomic numbers 58-71) to a separate place in the table, where they remain today. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1913.

Werner was born in the the French region of Alsace, which came under German control through the Franco-Prussian war while he was still a child. His family considered themselves French, and he spoke and was educated in both the French and German languages. He became a naturalized Swiss citizen in his 20s, and spent his career in Zürich, where he died at the age of 53 in 1919.


[1] arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) of the brain.

Father: Jean-Adam Werner (factory foreman)
Mother: Salomé Jeanette Tesché
Wife: Emma Giesker (m. 1894, one son, one daughter)
Son: Alfred
Daughter: Charlotte

    University: Technical High School, Karlsruhe (attended 1886)
    University: Technical High School, Zürich (1889)
    University:
PhD, University of Zürich (1890)
    Scholar: Collège de France (1890-91)
    Teacher: University of Zürich (1891-92)
    Teacher: Technical High School, Zürich (1892-93)
    Teacher: University of Zürich (1893-95)
    Professor: University of Zürich (1895-1919)

    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1913
    British Chemical Society Foreign Member
    German Academy of Science
    German Bunsen Society for Applied Physical Chemistry
    French Ancestry
    Naturalized Swiss Citizen 1895

Author of books:
Neuere Anschauungen auf dem Gebiete der Anorganischen Chemie (1904, chemistry)
Lehrbuch der Stereochemie (1904, chemistry)



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