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Werner, Alfred

theory german atom french

[ ver ner] (1866–1919) German–Swiss inorganic chemist: founded the modern theory of co-ordination compounds.

Werner was born in Alsace; it was French when he was born, became German when he was 4, and French again in 1919. Werner had allegiances to both French and German culture; he usually wrote in German. He lived in Switzerland from the age of 20, graduating at Zürich, and held a professorship there from 1895 until his death.

From 1892 he worked on the inorganic complexes of metals. This large class of chemical compounds had seemed confused; the sort of structure theory that had served well in organic chemistry did not appear to apply, and neither did ordinary valence rules. Werner brought a new view to them. He proposed that the central atom (usually a transition metal atom) had its normal valence, and also secondary valences that bonded it to other atoms, groups or molecules (collectively, ‘ligands’) arranged in space around it. This theory of coordination complexes allowed two to nine ligands to be co-ordinated to the central atom; the commonest co-ordination number is six, with the ligands arranged octahedrally. During 20 years, Werner worked out the consequences of this theory extensively, and rejuvenated inorganic chemistry as a result. Metal complexes are of great importance also in plant and animal biochemistry. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1913.

Werner, Helmut - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Helmut Werner [next] [back] Werner, Abraham Gottlob

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