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Weizmann, Chaim

chemistry acetone balfour aircraft

(1874–1952) Israeli biochemist: devised fermentation synthesis of acetone; became President of Israel.

Born in Belorus, chemistry was Weizmann’s enthusiasm from childhood, and he studied it at Darmstadt and Berlin and became a university lecturer in organic chemistry at Geneva, combining academic work with commercial dye chemistry, and with rising involvement in Zionism. In 1904 he moved to Manchester as lecturer in biochemistry, with particular interest in fermentation processes, and a leading position also in the Zionist movement. In 1912 he found a strain of the Clostridium bacterium which fermented starch to give ethanol, butanol and acetone. In the First World War acetone was urgently needed by the allies for aircraft dope (the varnish used on the fabric of aircraft bodies) and for making cordite, the major military and naval weapon propellant. The small pre-war need had been met by pyrolysis of timber: Weizmann’s process saved the situation. It also aided him when in 1917 he led negotiations with A J Balfour (then the UK’s Foreign Secretary) which culminated in the Balfour declaration, which formally gave British support for the concept of a Jewish national home to be created in Palestine. The state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, with Weizmann as its first president. He was also the founder of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in 1934.

Weizs├Ącker, Carl Friedrich, Freiherr [next] [back] Weismann, August

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