Childhood & Early Life
He was born on March 23, 1881, in Worms, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany to Dr. Franz Gottfried Christian Karl Georg Staudinger and his wife Auguste Staudinger. His father was a neo-Kantian philosopher.
He had three brothers, Karl August Friedrich Staudinger, Wilhelm Staudinger and Hans Wilhelm Staudinger and one sister Luise Federn.
He attended the Gymnasium in Worms and completed his matriculation in 1899.
Thereafter he enrolled at the ‘University of Halle’ and after a short while transferred to technical university at Darmstadt following his father’s new teaching job at Darmstadt.
He then furthered his studies in Munich and Halle, ultimately earning Ph.D. from the ‘University of Halle’ in 1903, submitting his thesis on the malonic esters of unsaturated compounds.
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After completing his Ph.D. he joined the ‘University of Strasbourg’ where he worked under Professor Johannes Thiele, a noted German chemist, and made his first discovery, the ketenes. The Ketenes were studied by Staudinger as a class, the first study of its kind by anyone. These are highly reactive organic compounds that are defined by form R′R″C=C=O, which later proved to be synthetically significant intermediary in producing antibiotics like amoxicillin and penicillin.
His research followed by his discovery of ketenes became the subject of his ‘Habilitation’, the highest academic qualification bestowed on a scholar, which he received in 1907. The same year in November he was inducted by the ‘Institute of Chemistry’ of the ‘Technical University of Karlsruhe’ as an Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry. During his tenure at the university he became successful in isolating several useful organic compounds.
He started investigations on polymers while conducting his research on the synthesis of isoprene, monomer of natural rubber, in 1910 for the German chemical company ‘BASF’. Through his groundbreaking research work he published a paper in 1920 where he suggested that polymers like rubber, starch, proteins and cellulose are long-chain molecules that are formed out of chemical interaction of molecular units.
This idea was contrary to the prevailing concept suggested by leading chemists of those times like Heinrich Wieland and Emil Fischer, who believed that these high-molecular weight compounds were a result of physical aggregation of small molecules into colloids.
In 1912 he joined the faculty at the ‘Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’ located at Zürich, Switzerland and served the institute for fourteen years till 1926.
In 1919 he researched with his colleague Meyer and discovered that the anion azide reacts with triphenylphosphine, a common organophosphorus compound commonly used as a reducing agent, to generate phosphazide. This chemical reaction was named after him as the ‘Staudinger reaction’ or the ‘Staudinger reduction’.
In 1922 he as well as J. Fritschi suggested that polymers are giant molecular structures, which are adhered together through covalent bonds. He also demonstrated that different procedures could be applied to obtain synthesis of the chainlike molecules, which he termed as macromolecules, and suggested that these high molar masses could retain their identity even after being subjected to chemical alterations.
The ‘University of Freiburg’ located at Freiburg in Breisgau, southwest Germany, inducted him as lecturer of chemistry in 1926.
In 1940 he took up additional responsibility as the Principal of the ‘Research Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry’. The same year he established the first ever journal on polymer chemistry.
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In 1951 he was selected as Head of the ‘State Research Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry’, a position he served till April 1956.
He was a prolific writer and wrote several books over the years. Some of his published books are ‘Die Ketene’ (Ketenes), 1912; ‘Die hochmolekularen organischen Verbindungen, Kautschak und Cellulose’ (The high-molecular organic compounds, rubber and cellulose), 1932; ‘Makromolekulare Chemie und Biologie’ (Macromolecular chemistry and biology), 1947; and ‘Arbeitserinnerungen’ (Working Memoirs), 1961.
Apart from books, many scientific papers were published by him on his works on ketenes, macromolecular compounds, autoxidation, insecticides, oxalyl chloride and aliphatic diazo-compounds among others. Of these around 120 papers were on cellulose with a total of about 500 scientific papers on macromolecular compounds.
He was a member and honorary member of many Chemical Societies including Tokyo’s ‘Society of Macromolecular Chemistry’.
He was conferred with honorary doctorates from several universities including ‘University of Strasbourg’, ‘University of Torino’, ‘University of Mainz’, ‘Technische Hochschule Karlsruhe’ and ‘University of Salamanca’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Magda Woit, a Latvian plant physiologist, in 1927. She remained his co-worker for years and her contributions were acknowledged by Staudinger while accepting the Nobel Prize. Magda was also a co-author of many of his publications.
He passed away on September 8, 1965, at the age of 84 years in Freiburg, West Germany.