Justus von Liebig

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Justus von Liebig (12 May 1803 – 18 April 1873) was a German chemist who made major contributions to agricultural and biological chemistry, and worked on the organization of organic chemistry. As a professor, he devised the modern laboratory-oriented teaching method, and for such innovations, he is regarded as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time. He is known as the "father of the fertilizer industry" for his discovery of nitrogen as an essential plant nutrient, and his formulation of the Law of the Minimum which described the effect of individual nutrients on crops. He later recanted his views on the efficacy of chemical fertilizers.[citation needed] He also developed a manufacturing process for beef extracts, and founded a company, Liebig Extract of Meat Company, that later trademarked the Oxo brand beef bouillon cube.



Liebig was born in Darmstadt into a middle class family. From childhood he was fascinated by chemistry. At the age of 13, Liebig lived through the year without a summer, when the majority of food-crops in the northern hemisphere were destroyed by a volcanic winter. Germany was among the hardest-hit in the global famine that ensued, and the experience is said to have shaped Liebig's later work. Thanks in-part to Liebig's innovations in fertilizers and agriculture, the 1816 famine became known as "the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world".[2]

Liebig was apprenticed to the apothecary Gottfried Pirsch (1792–1870) in Heppenheim and attended the University of Bonn, studying under Karl Wilhelm Gottlob Kastner, a business associate of his father. When Kastner moved to the University of Erlangen, Liebig followed him and later took his doctorate from Erlangen. Liebig did not receive the doctorate until well after he had left Erlangen, and the circumstances are clouded by a possible scandal [see Munday (1990)]. Liebig left Erlangen in March 1822, in part because of his involvement with the radical Korps Rhenania (a nationalist student organization) but also because of his hopes for more advanced chemical studies.

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