Czech Contribution to the History of World Chemistry - BOHUSLAV BRAUNER * 8. 5. 1855 - +15. 2. 1935

1-2 2006 Kultura English
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As is generally known, last year, there were two significant anniversaries to be remembered. That is to say one anniversary of 150 years since the birth and a second anniversary of 70 years since the death of the above-mentioned outstanding representative of Czech chemistry. His reknown was worldwide. He acquired his PhD, and was subsequently teaching as a professor at Charles University in Prague.

He was born on May 5, 1855 in Prague to a wealthy family of a provincial Attorney at Law. To justify his enthusiatic dedication to the science of chemistry , he described himself as being already born with "chemical blood" in his veins. His great-granduncle on his mother's side, Kaspar Neumann [1683-1737], was manager of a pharmacy and withal a chemistry professor at the university in Berlin. In fact, the latter was considered to be a founder of modern pharmacology. Bohuslav's grandfather Dr. Charles August Neumann [1771-1866] was governmental council, besides being one of the founders of the "Association for Stimulating of Industry in Bohemia". Moreover, he had also acquired merits as a professor of chemistry at Prague University [1810- 1820]., where he developed many improvements in the Czech chemistry industry, particularly the sugar industry.. His daughter, Augusta Braunerova, who was in many respects a highly educated person, was also active as a natural scientist. In those days, this was quite exceptional. Besides, she spoke several foreign languages. Definitely, it was due to her credit that her son Bohuslav was led in his early youth to assiduously study all kinds of scientific genres. Accordingly, such a good fundamental basis enabled him thereafter to study with great facility all the specialized literature, which he oftentimes combined with many trips in Europe and America. Thanks to the modern family education, Bohuslav enjoyed being not only in good health, by engaging in various sports, but also being a scientist. Bohuslav's Father, Dr. Frantisek August Brauner [1810-1880] was an enthusiastic patriot, who discharged such an obligation as being an influencial old Czech politician, Also, he was a defender of Slavonic ideals. Moreover, he was a contributor in organizing the famous Slavic Convention in Prague during the revolutionary year 1848. In addition, he was the author of the first fomulation of the Czech Government Law requirements, presented to the Austrian authorities, which meant to fix among other things, the Exclusion Law for the Czech Kingdom. Although his political charismata were very often contradictory to the opinions of the Austrian authorities, he was in spite of it well recognized by them for his clever, reasonable and skillful handling of the matters both in his activity in their Provincial Assembly and in their Realm Council. He was well known for some of his pronouncements, such as " History of the Czech nation is a history of treason against Hapsburgs" or "Whoever is desirous to acquire his own country's gratitude. do not look for any favors from the prevailing period. In this kind of family connection, we may add that Bohuslav's sister, Zdenka Braunova, [1858- 1934], was a well known landscape artist, besides being a loving wife and monther of three adopted children. In their family they also adopted Lidmila, who was a daughter of chemist and astronomer, professor Vojtech Safarik; she died in 1929. After passing his final examinations at the high school, located in the Prague's quarter, called Mala strana (Lesser Part of the city) in 1873, Bohuslav studied at the Prague Technical faculty of Charles University. His favorite teachers were professors V. Safarik and F.Stolba. Still, at the time when he attended his lectures at the university, he pulished his first specialist's work, called "About the atoms and valency of some elements", as well as about the rules to be adhered to as regards the atom numbers". (1877). Simultaneously, he was also registered at the University , where German chemistry professors, A. Lieben, and E.Linnemann, and in addition physics professor E. Mach were teaching. The latter was also well known for publishing of his philosophical writings. Due to personal differences of opinion with some of them, Bohuslav left for Heidelberg to stay there for one year. Over there, he was very favorably welcomed to work in the university laboratory of the well known German chemist, R.W. Bunsen. Upon Bohuslav's return to Prague, he submitted at the University his disertation thesis, and accomplished his doctor's examinations concerning organic chemistry, a subject which was not his favorite one. In fact, Buhoslav wrote that he slapdashed his doctor's degree and, indeed, he really meant it.literally. Thereafter, he left in 1880 for a long lasting two years' study sojourn at the University in Manchester to work there with professor H.E. Roscoe. This period of his life was embracing a most important occurrence which affected all his ensuing life., i.e. he succeeded in establishing a direct contact with D.I. Mendelejev, to whom he was connected during many subsequent years by mutual intimate friendship. Upon his return to Prague, he became an assistant (adjunct) professor of the Chemical Institute at Charles University [1882]. The following year, Bohuslav habilitated there as a private docent of analytical chemistry. In 1890. he became an irregular professor, and during the subsequent seven years of his stay, he became a regular professor of analytical and anorganic chemistry at the Czech University section of Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague.

Moreover, he had some merits in constructing a new building [1905], which became a seat of the Natural History Faculty of Charles University. Its office is located in Albertov [part of Prague's New Town quarter]. At this faculty, he was thereafter working until 1925, which was also the year of his retirement.

Since 1890, he was a member of the Czech Scientific Academy as well as of different additional prominent scientific domestic institutions. Withal, he participated in quite a lot of various titles to be compiled for Otto's Encyclopaedia, which is really a very popular one in the Czech community. Moreover, he educated a substantial number of well trained chemists, skilled in both anorganic and analytic chemistry. Let us quote only some names of his pupils or assistants, such as Jindrich Krepelka, Alxander Sommer-Batek, Bohumil Kuzma, Emil Svagr, Josef Sveda, and Otto Procke. At that time, a priviledge relating to the university professor was generally prevailing that upon attaining of 70 years, which was the retirement age, they were allowed to serve an additional year, which was called a "generous year" (in German "Edeljahr"). As for Bohuslav, it was typical for him that he did not make use of such a privilege, in spite of the fact that he still enjoyed at that time a robust. health. However, before long, he died on February 15, 1935 owing to flu which later on developed into pneumonia. Professor B. Brauner dedicated his rich scientific activity, partly to the question of anorganic and general chemistry, and in part to the works of analytic nature. In the first place, his attention was focused on research of the elements of rare soils, their essential atomic characteristics, their compounds and their setting up in the periodical table. To quote just an example, it is woth saying that in 1902, he forecasted the existence of promethia, which was discovered much later, i.e. in 1945. Together with his pupils, he determined the atomic particles of cers, lanthan, praseodym, neodym, thoria, tellur and tin. Besides, he predicted in 1980 the existence of isotopes. Also, in 1888, he proposed to use as a basis for relative atomic particles oxygen instead of hitherto used hydrogen. This proposal was thereafter introduced and generally used at the beginning of the 20th century, and it retained its validity until 1921. Bohuslav's main contribution consists in the first place in the fact that he was the first one who understood the fundamental meaning of the Medelejev Law and the periodic system of elements for all of chemistry. He did so during those days when the whole scientific world was accepting such a theory in a very skeptical and chilly way. Being its convinced adherent and propagator, he contributed by his works to recognition of his discovery in a marked way. For this, he was rewarded by an appreciation not only in the Czech lands, but also in many western European countries. The latter was quite an unusual reality, because many a time works of Slavic researchers did not find a favorable response.

Bohuslav's extensive literary oeuvre is represented by 170 scientific articles and publications, in which he himself figures as an author or as a co-author. Into such a number it is to be also included his prestigious work, bearing the title "Handbuch der anorganischen Chemie" ( = Handbook of Anorganic Chemistry) (1910), wherein he authored extensive chapters relating to determination of the atomic substances of individual elements. Another momentous work is represented by a treatise on elements in rare soils, which he wrote up with his pupil, assistant and later on his successor, professor J. Krepelka. This article was included in the book of Anorganic Chemistry, authored by Votocka. Withal, another treatise was set up for the university students, bearing the title Quantitative Analysis for the Students at Charles University. (1919). Needless to say, Bohuslav Brauner alongside of Jaroslav Heyrovsky, was the greatest chemist from Czechoslovakia (at that time, it was from Austrian-Hungarian Empire) who is acclaimed worldwide for his superlative work. His scientific oeuvre was greatly appreciated abroad as he was conferred honorary doctorates at numerous foreign universities. What is more, there were bestowed upon him ordinary memberships of many foreign learned societies, (e.g. American Chemis Society, Owens College Chemical Society, &c.). He was also awarded an Order of the Honorary Legion of the French Republic. As a member of the International Commission of Atomics, he functioned there as Chairman of the Atomic Weight Section . As for his scientific standing, it was proven by his continuous active participation in the Proposals Assembly of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Bohumil Tesarik
Translated by Charles Opatrny

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