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33083.  Sun Nov 20, 2005 8:18 pm Reply with quote

I know of one scientist who dreamed the solution to his research - are there any others?

Friedrich August Kekulé was born on September 7, 1829 in Darmstadt, Germany.

In the winter of 1847 he entered the University of Giessen with the intention of studying architecture. It was here that he happened to enroll in a chemistry class under Justus von Liebig. He became so interested in the material that he changed his course of study to chemistry despite his family's disapproval.

Kekulé then went to Paris to continue work on his doctoral degree. Here he learned the unitary theory of chemistry, the theory of radicals and Type Theory, and became interested in the problems of philosophy of chemistry.

After working for a while in Switzerland, he moved to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. He became friends with A. W. Williamson, who was working on trying to classify organic compounds by means of structure. Their discussions and those he had with another friend, Mueller, influenced a "vision" that helped him demonstrate the tetravalency of carbon and the ability of carbon atoms to form chains.

Kekulé wrote of this vision:

During my stay in London I resided in Clapham Road....I frequently, however, spent my evenings with my friend Hugo Mueller....We talked of many things but most often of our beloved chemistry. One fine summer evening I was returning by the last bus, riding outside as usual, through the deserted streets of the city....I fell into a reverie, and lo, the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. Whenever, hitherto, these diminutive beings had appeared to me, they had always been in motion. Now, however, I saw how, frequently, two smaller atoms united to form a pair: how a larger one embraced the two smaller ones; how still larger ones kept hold of three or even four of the smaller: whilst the whole kept whirling in a giddy dance. I saw how the larger ones formed a chain, dragging the smaller ones after them but only at the ends of the chains....The cry of the conductor: "Clapham Road," awakened me from my dreaming; but I spent a part of the night in putting on paper at least sketches of these dream forms. This was the origin of the "Structural Theory.

In 1856, Kekulé enrolled at the University of Heidelberg to become a privatdocent and began teaching organic chemistry. He published a paper on the tetravalency of carbon in 1857 and extended the concept to include the idea that carbon is able to link in chains in 1858. This concept laid the basis for structural chemistry.

In 1858 he was offered the chair of Chemistry at the University of Ghent in Belgium. He initiated the First International Congress of Chemists held at Karlsruhe in 1860, attempting to come to some consensus and agree to some common goals. They tried to address questions of nomenclature and definitions of atom, molecule, and equivalency.

In 1862 he published the theory of unsaturated carbon compounds. In 1864 he had his second famous dream.

During my stay in Ghent, I lived in elegant bachelor quarters in the main thoroughfare. My study, however, faced a narrow side-alley and no daylight penetrated it....I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis.

The significance of this dream to Kekulé was enough to make him set his research team to work on it, and led him to report the conclusions to the Royal Academy of Belgium in 1865. He reported his conclusions that the structure of benzene was a closed, hexagonal, six-membered ring. After this his research team continued to synthesize new compounds which would ensure the acceptance of his theories.

33085.  Sun Nov 20, 2005 8:23 pm Reply with quote

This might all seem quite obscure, but the fact is that these two dreams helped Kekulé lay the whole foundation of modern structural chemistry.

33087.  Sun Nov 20, 2005 8:28 pm Reply with quote

Didn't Mendeleyev dream the Periodic Table?

33088.  Sun Nov 20, 2005 8:35 pm Reply with quote

I didn't know that, Samivel, but you're right. There is a book called Mendeleev's Dream by Paul Strathern (one for the QI bookshop surely?) which talks about it. The review says this:

On the night of February 17, 1869, the Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev went to bed frustrated by a puzzle he had been playing with for years: how the atomic weights of the chemical elements could be grouped in some meaningful way--and one that, with any luck, would open a window onto the hidden structure of nature. He dreamed, as he later recalled, of "a table where all the elements fell into place as required." His intuition that when the elements were listed in order of weight, their properties repeated in regular intervals, gave rise to the Periodic Table of the Elements--which, though much revised since, underlies modern chemistry.

33090.  Sun Nov 20, 2005 8:43 pm Reply with quote

Ah, thanks for that - I think I'll just pop off and order that ;)

37452.  Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:09 am Reply with quote


Can you tell me where the Kekulé information can be found, please?

Many thanks

37502.  Wed Dec 07, 2005 1:35 pm Reply with quote

QIly, Its in one ofmy old Horrible Science books by Nick Arnold
Chemical Chaos

37507.  Wed Dec 07, 2005 2:09 pm Reply with quote

I've read that, actually I own it.. It is rather good though! I learnt so much from it..

37566.  Wed Dec 07, 2005 7:50 pm Reply with quote

Elias Howe was working on a problem he could find no solution to. One night he dreamt that he was surrounded by native tribesmen pointing spears at him. All the spears had holes in their points. When he woke up he realised that this was the solution as to how to make the sewing machine work.

Edison is said to have slept with a notebook beside his bed.

37579.  Wed Dec 07, 2005 10:29 pm Reply with quote

Samivel - I should have posted the link and didn't, sorry. The information, and the quotations, come from this website:

37581.  Wed Dec 07, 2005 10:32 pm Reply with quote

Thank you :)


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