|Henri-Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville|
Birthplace: St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands
Location of death: Boulogne, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Process for obtaining aluminum
French chemist, born on the 11th of March 1818 in the island of St. Thomas, West Indies, where his father was French consul. Together with his elder brother Charles he was educated in Paris at the Collège Rollin. In 1844, having graduated as doctor of medicine and doctor of science, he was appointed to organize the new faculty of science at Besançon, where he acted as dean and professor of chemistry from 1845 to 1851. Returning to Paris in the latter year he succeeded A. J. Balard at the École Normale, and in 1859 became professor at the Sorbonne in place of Jean-Baptiste-André Dumas, for whom he had begun to lecture in 1853. He died at Boulogne-sur-Seine on the 1st of July 1881.
He began his experimental work in 1841 with investigations of oil of turpentine and tolu balsam, in the course of which he discovered toluene. But his most important work was in inorganic and thermal chemistry. In 1849 he discovered anhydrous nitric acid (nitrogen pentoxide), a substance interesting as the first obtained of the so-called "anhydrides" of the monobasic acids. In 1855, ignorant of what Friedrich Wöhler had done ten years previously, he succeeded in obtaining metallic aluminium, and ultimately he devised a method by which the metal could be prepared on a large scale by the aid of sodium, the manufacture of which he also developed. With H. J. Debray (1827-1888) he worked at the platinum metals, his object being on the one hand to prepare them pure, and on the other to find a suitable metal for the standard meter for the International Metric Commission then sitting at Paris. With L. J. Troost (b. 1825) he devised a method for determining vapor densities at temperatures up to 1400°C., and, partly with Wöhler, he investigated the allotropic forms of silicon and boron. The artificial preparation of minerals, especially of apatite and isomorphous minerals and of crystalline oxides, was another subject in which he made many experiments. But his best known contribution to general chemistry is his work on the phenomena of reversible reactions, which he comprehended under a general theory of "dissociation." He first took up the subject about 1857, and it was in the course of his investigations on it that he devised the apparatus known as the "Deville hot and cold tube."
Brother: Charles Sainte-Claire Deville (geologist, b. 1814, d. 1876)
University: Collège Rollin, Paris
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