Childhood & Early Life
Karl Ziegler was born on November 26, 1898, in Kassel, Germany, as the second son of Karl Ziegler, a Lutheran minister, and Caroline Helene Louise, née Rall.
Karl started his education at the Kassel-Bettenhausen elementary school in Helsa. In 1910, the family moved to Marburg and there he was admitted to the Real gymnasium.
While studying there, he came across an introductory textbook on physics. On reading it, he became very enthusiastic about science and began to read books outside his curriculum. He also started conducting experiments at home.
He was also encouraged in this by his father’s friends, many of whom were professors from the University of Marburg. By the time Karl reached his final year of the high school, he had gathered extensive knowledge in science and received the most outstanding student award.
In 1916, after passing out from school, Karl joined the University of Marburg with chemistry. However, because of his wide-ranging knowledge in the subject he was allowed to skip the first two semesters.
His college education was interrupted for a brief period when in 1918 he was inducted in the German army and deployed at the front to fight in the First World War. Fortunately, the war ended in the same year and he came back to resume his studies.
In 1919, he began his graduation work under Karl von Auwers; receiving his PhD in chemistry in 1920. His dissertation was titled ‘Studies on semibenzole and related links’.
He continued to work with Karl von Auwers at the University of Marburg. While doing his doctoral work, he had established that halochromic salts could be made from carbinols. Now, he began to synthesize similarly substituted free radicals and successfully prepared 1,2,4,5-tetraphenylallyl. The paper, submitted in 1923, qualified him as Privatdozent.
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In December 1923, Karl Ziegler became Privatdozent at the University of Marburg. At the same time, he continued his research work on free radicals with Karl von Auwers.
In 1925, he shifted to University of Frankfurt am Main, remaining there until 1926. Sometime in 1925, he also prepared pentaphenyl-cyclopentadienyl. The compound was more stable than tri-valent carbon free radicals, such as triphenylmethyl.
In 1926, Ziegler joined the University of Heidelberg as an assistant professor, remaining there till 1936. Here he started his experiments on carbon compounds, investigating into the stability of radicals on trivalent carbons. The work led him to study organometallic chemistry.
In 1927, he became a full professor at the University of Heidelberg. This was also the year when he found that when the olefin stilbene was added to an ethyl ether solution of phenylisopropyl potassium, the color changes from red to yellow abruptly.
Working on it, he also found that if more olefinic hydrocarbon butadiene was added to a solution of phenylisopropyl potassium a long-chain hydrocarbon can be obtained with the reactive organopotassium end still intact.
In 1930, Ziegler directly synthesized lithium alkyls and aryls from metallic lithium and halogenated hydrocarbons. Next in 1933, he published his first major paper on the syntheses of multi-membered ring systems. Titled, ‘Vielgliedrige Ringsysteme, it presented the fundamentals for the Ruggli-Ziegler dilution principle.
In 1936, he left Heidelberg and became a visiting professor at the University of Chicago for a short period. Later in the same year, he was appointed as the full professor and director of the Chemical Institute at the University of Halle.
Here he continued studying alkali organic compounds, free radicals, polymerization mechanisms, and ring syntheses. However, as the World War II set in 1939, the political as well as economic situation of the country became such that it became very difficult to carry on fundamental research.
In 1943, he was asked to succeed Franz Fischer as the Director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut fur Kohlenforschung (Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Coal Research) in Mülheim an der Ruhr. He accepted the offer on two conditions.
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His first condition was that other than coal he should be allowed to work on all kinds of carbon compounds and the second condition was that he should be allowed to keep patent rights and royalties on new inventions. However, his family continued to reside at Halle.
From 1943 to 1945, Ziegler kept on commuting between Halle and Mülheim, simultaneously shouldering both the responsibilities. Later, as the war drew to an end and the Russian army began to move towards Halle, he shifted permanently to Mülheim.
In this post year period, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute was renamed as Max-Planck-Institut fur Kohlenforschung (Max Planck Institute for Coal Research). Now his main work was to restore the chemical research in Germany. Concurrently, he also continued his own research work and made some major discoveries.
Concurrently, in 1949, he also helped to establish Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (German Chemical Society) and served as its president for five years.
From 1954 to 1957, he served as President of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Mineralölwissenschaft und Kohlechemie (German Society for Petroleum Science and Coal Chemistry).
He retired from Max-Planck-Institut fur Kohlenforschung in 1969.
Awards & Achievements
In 1963, Ziegler received the Nobel Prize in Chemitry for his “discoveries in the field of the chemistry and technology of high polymers. He shared the prize with Giulio Natta, who had used Ziegler’s techniques to produce first isotactic polypropylene.
In addition to that, he had received several other medals and prizes, among which, Liebig Medal (1935), War Merit Cross 2nd Class (1940) and Werner von Siemens Ring (1961) were most significant.
In 1971, he became a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (England).
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1922, Karl Ziegler married Maria Kurtz. They had two children. His son, Erhart Ziegler, was a physicist and patent attorney. His daughter, Marianna Ziegler Witte, was a doctor of medicine.
Ziegler owned many patents, which made him very rich. Using part of his wealth (40 million deutsche marks), he later set up the Ziegler Fund with the aim of supporting the institute's research
He was also a collector of art and liked travelling around. He especially liked going on cruising.
In 1972, he chartered a cruise and went on eclipse viewing. He became ill on this trip and died a year later on August 12, 1973 in Mülheim, Germany.
Today, a number of scientific processes bear his name. Among them, Ziegler–Natta catalyst, Ziegler process, Wohl–Ziegler bromination and Thorpe–Ziegler reaction are most significant.