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Heroes of Chemical Engineering (Part 1): Johann Rudolf Glauber

As the first entry in our new series called “Heroes of Chemical Engineering” we would like to start at the beginning. And it all began, some say, with Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604 - 1670) who was the first to produce various concentrated acid as well as sodium sulfate, also called Glauber’s salt.

Johann Rudolf Glauber was a German-Dutch pharmacist and chemist. Born in 1604 in Karlstadt am Main (in today’s Germany), the son of a barber, he was one of a large family and did not finish school, but is thought to have studied pharmacy and visited laboratories.

[caption id="attachment_699" align="alignright" width="240"]Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604 - 1670) Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604 - 1670)[/caption]

Glauber carried out studies on the chemistry of wine production and had commercial success by licensing improvements. He was also an apothecary, supplying medicines, and known for providing free medical treatment to the poor. He is known for his contributions to inorganic chemistry and the fact that he was able to live from the proceeds of chemical production based upon his discoveries, and was thus an industrial chemist. His improvements to chemical processes and equipment (notably furnaces and distillation devices) make him an early chemical engineer.

He was first to produce concentrated hydrochloric acid. He also made an improved process for the manufacture of nitric acid in 1648, by heating potassium nitrate with concentrated sulphuric acid. His production of sodium sulfate, which he called sal mirabilis or "wonderful salt", brought him fame and the honour of being named "Glauber's salt". It was an effective but relatively safe laxative at a time when purging (emptying the digestive tract) was a popular treatment for many diseases.

The chemical garden (or silica garden) was first observed by Glauber and described by him in 1646. In its original form, the chemical garden involved the introduction of ferrous chloride (FeCl2) crystals into a solution of potassium silicate (K2SiO3, water glass).

He was the first to synthesize and isolate antimony trichloride, arsenic trichloride, tin tetrachloride and zinc chloride.

In addition he wrote about 40 books. A visionary one is Dess Teutschlands Wohlfahrt (Germany's Prosperity) in which he proposed the chemical industries as a means for Germany's economic recovery after the Thirty Years War.

In 1660 he became seriously ill, which has been attributed to poisoning from the various heavy metals used in his work, and in 1666 was crippled by a fall from a wagon and was confined to bed for the rest of his life. As a result he had to sell off books and equipment to provide for his family. He died on 16 March 1670 in Amsterdam.

Chemical engineering has come a long way since the days of Johann Rudolf Glauber. He and his peers had to develop their own laboratory tools to make the first step into a completely new field of science and technology. Today, more than 3 centuries later, modern chemical engineering uses process simulation software like CHEMCAD to developed and improved industrial processes.

If you want to learn to use CHEMCAD and use it to optimize a chemical process, participation in the Process Simulation Cup 2015 is the ideal opportunity for you!

13 August 2015