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Stacy, My AACE web site. Enjoy.

Chemists : Big people in a big world

 Sir Robert John Kane (1809-1890)
( Does anybody else think that his birth and death years are interesting?)


Not many people have ever heard of him, but unlike most, he was well recognized in his time as a world-renound chemist.  He is mostly known as the author of " The Industrial Resources of Ireland" , that he published in 1844.  However, he had a number of additional acheivments under his belt, and comtributed a lot to the science world that we now have and learn from today.  That is what I will be discussing on this here web page.

Robert Kane was an Irish scientist (chemist), born to a father (in Dublin on September 24, 1809), who had to flee to France because of his part in the 1798 rebellion.  Being a chemist must run in the family because his father  was also a chemist, and in 1894 he (John Kean-name change to "Kane") returned to Ireland and started to make chemicals (sulphuric acid), and eventually opened a factory.
It was from a very young age that Robert developed an intrest in chemistry, attending lectures and carrying out his own experiments in his father's factory.  In fact he published his first chemical paper when he was just a teenager ; "Observations on the existence of chlorine in the native peroxide of maganese", published in 1828.  He wrote another paper on "Kaneite" that was published in 1829.
Where did all of this brain power come from?  As far as schooling goes not that much is known about it.  It is percieved that some of his early schooling was in Germany, based off his ability to speak the language well.  After publishing his first paper he was accepted to Trinity College (a college still well-known today), where he actually decided to study medicine.  In doing that there was no sway from his intrest in chemisry hense the second paper in 1829.  From there he studied pharmacy in Paris in 1830. 
In 1831 when he returned home he wote a book ; "Elements of Practical Pharmacy" ,that was three-hundred and fifty pages long.  This was only after a years worth of learning!  Its probably already quite obvious to you now that Robert Kane was an extremely bright young man (or science geek depending on how you look at it).  If that wasn't enough for us young adults to feel incompetent, because of his book, he was offered a position as a professor.  He became known as "The Boy Professor" at the Apothecaries Hall in Dublin where he was a chemistry professor.  Keep in mind that this was all before he even graduated Trinity and was only twenty-two years of age at this point.
A year or so later he was elected to the Royal Irish Academy.  To them he presented his paper; "On the iodide of platinum and its saline compounds".  Before-hand he had written a paper ;"Remarks on the properties of the hydracids", where he spoke of the nature of acids and demonstrated the electropositive nature of hydrogen.
He was the first to propose the existance of "ethyl radical", that he published in 1833 on January first, in the Dublin Journal of Medical and Chemical Sciences.  His proposal wasn't exactly accepted by the science world at first, until the great German chemist Justus Liebig put forth similar ideas.  Since Kane had proposed them first he later got the credit that was due to him.
In 1834 he along with many other things such as giving lectures on physics, he researched the products of wood distillation (ring any bells, or perhaps any smells? Yeah, thats right, the awful smell that lingers down the hallway every second or third week in September, that you just cannot escape.), and invented the calcium chloride process for seperating methanol from wood spirit.  He soon realized that his skills in organic analyse were below par, so he went to Germany and worked in the laboratory of Liebig.  While there he continued to work from wood spirit and showed that mesitic alcohol (propanone acetone) produced a hydrocarbon when treated with sulphuric acid.  He called it mesitylene.  In the reaction there involves the conversion of a chain compound into a ring compound.  This was later used to establish the symmetry of the benzene ring.  Jon Berzelius wrote that he considered Kane's  work to be "among the most important work recorded that year..."
In 1841 Kane published the first two parts of his "Elements of Chemistry. " Two years later part three was published, and it completed a total of 1204 pages.  It was highly successful and immediately accepted. It was in 1844, the peak of his scientific career, when he published an extended version under the title "Industrial Resources of Ireland" that I spoke of earlier.
Among this, he was head of and dabbled in many other aspects of the scientific and educational worlds.  He was editor of publications of work such as the Philosophical Magazine , President of Queen's College, in Cork, and was one of the eight Irish Relief Commissioners and a member of the Board of Health , set up to deal with the outbreak of typhus and to get to the bottom of the  "Blight" the cause the Irish Potato Famine inthe 1800s , and he was also a director of a museum(the Museum of Economic Geology in Dublin).  In 1846 he was made Sir Robert Kane in recognition of his services by Robert Peel, the same man who appointed him director of the museum.
Even after his retirement in 1873, he kept on working in honoary positions, and worked to improve the science education in Ireland.  he died in Dublin on Febuary sixteenth, 1890.  He is best known/remembered for his work on natural resources and those of the industrial kind in Ireland, along with his books.
Baically he was a gifted young chemist who turned into a gifted adult who was all for the furtherment of the sciences and the science education.  He took on the view point that the education was too much revolved around and involved in literature and English, and that the sciences were being too much ignored.  It wasn't that he didn't like literature, he just thought knowing about what "was/is" was being neglected.  It can be said that he made a huge contribution to the science that we learn today.  Although his individual discoveries might be seemingly small, he made many contibutions to what is taught to, and learned by us students today.


This is the benzene ring, that Kane helped to develop the symmetry of when he was working in Liebig's laboratory.

"...the absence of successful enterprise is owing to the fact that we do not know how to succeed; we do not want activity, we are deficient in the mental power, but we want special industrial knowledge."
-Sir Robert John Kane

That's all for now folks!

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