It may have taken over two thousand years, but humanity has come a long way in the area of science and analytical chemistry. Thanks to many brilliant minds over the centuries science is leading the way into areas of new discovery like never before.

The fields of analytical chemistry and organic chemistry have greatly contributed to these developments and given us more than just a basic knowledge of the world and how it works. And isn’t it amazing that some of the things that we take most for granted, are the in fact the most mind-blowing -  like the fact that the world and everything in it is made up of tiny particles or that you can burn something like coal for heat. There’s no doubt, chemistry scientists have revolutionised the way we live in the modern world, offering us everything from solar power and radiation to dye for types of denim.

So many people make the mistake of thinking that chemistry is reserved for the academic, or weird chemistry scientist. And while there are many weird and whacky famous chemists out there who have changed our lives in more ways than we know, there’s more to chemistry than that!

In this article, we will look at 10 of the most profound chemistry scientists in history. Keep reading and consider how essential to our daily lives their discoveries have been!

Famous 18th Century Chemists

The 18th century was a time of great discovery for all areas of science, experimentation, and discovery. New theories were born for many disciplines and it was also the platform for many famous chemists to make their entrance too. Pioneering chemistry scientists provided a new theory for the base of many exciting theories and discoveries to follow.

While everyone’s contribution deserves to be noted, here are the big four fathers of chemistry and some of the most famous chemists of all time.

Your high school chemistry tutor or teacher should have you acquainted with all these names.

Antoine Lavoisier  

Antoine Lavoisier, who survived the French Revolution was a biologist and analytical chemist. He became famous for discovering the law of conservation mass. This theory states that while substances can change their form or state they will retain the same mass. It was an important discovery because it allowed other chemistry scientists to think about substance differences in terms that were not only about their qualitative properties.

When it came to chemistry elements, he was the first to identify hydrogen and oxygen and to notice the relationship between oxygen and combustion, which is something that we now know to be fundamental to almost all chemical reactions.

John Dalton

John Dalton, one of the most famous chemists to have ever lived was responsible for developing atomic theory which is literally the basis of the chemistry practised today.

Atomic theory suggests that all substances are formed from atoms and that the atoms in each element are identical. Dalton’s atomic theory demonstrates that chemical compounds are when the atoms of different elements combine, creating chemical reactions where the atoms are rearranged.

In laboratory experiments, Dalton also formulated his theory of atomic weight which reveals different molecular structures for varying substances.

scientist in lab wearing protective gloves
The scientists of the last few centuries have helped us to better understand the world around us. - Source: Unsplash

Friedrich Wöhler

When it comes to organic chemistry, Friedrich Wöhler (1800-1882) is known in particular for his synthesis of urea. His laboratory work to synthesis urea which is an organic compound, from inorganic precursors, dispelled the belief at the time that only living organisms could produce organic compounds. From here, organic chemistry took on new meaning.

Today, organic chemistry specialises in the study of the properties, composition and structure, preparation, and reactions of carbon-containing compounds.

Jöns Jacob Berzelius

The contribution of Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848) is equally important as the chemistry scientists above. Not only did he discover a number of chemistry elements (selenium, thorium, and cerium), but he mainly makes it onto the famous chemists list for his working in formalising the chemistry language including the notations that refer to chemistry elements.

He also came up with critical terms like polymer and catalysis, which is referred to today, as ionic bonding.

Most importantly, Berzelius is credited as being the first person to accurately measure the weight of atoms.

Find out about chemistry terminology in this glossary.

Dmitri Mendeleev

In a line-up of famous chemists, Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) could be the most famed of all chemistry scientists. His work, the periodic table, which contains all the chemistry elements is the most iconic symbol of analytical chemistry today. He was not just a chemistry genius, but Mendeleev was also passionate about meteorology and geology amongst other things.

Apparently he saw the periodic table of chemistry elements in a dream where different chemicals were differentiated by patterns allowing them to be arranged in a specific order. As he did not know all the chemistry elements we do now, he left gaps in the periodic table for future chemistry scientists to add to his work.

Renowned Scientists of the 19th Century

close up of purple crystal
Crystallography is the branch of science that deals with determining the arrangement of atoms within crystals. - Source: Unsplash

There is no doubt that two of the most famous chemists of the 19th century are Robert Bunsen and Alfred Nobel.

Robert Bunsen

You’ve probably heard of a Bunsen burner! If so, you can thank Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) for possibly the most famous piece of chemistry apparatus ever invented. As a university lecturer based in Germany, he spent his spare time writing textbooks, discovered the antidote for arsenic, and also discovered the element, caesium.

With a passion for burning things, Bunsen became aware of the colours that the different chemistry elements produced when heated. His famous burner made sure that these colours were not compromised by the flame that was heating them.

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Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896) is surely one of the most famous chemists and businessmen to have ever lived. Today, he is known in all fields because of the Nobel Prize for excellence in the sciences, economics, and literature.

Nobel’s greatest achievement was the invention of dynamite. This he intended as a tool for the construction industry, but as we know, this was a chemical discovery that has caused much harm to humanity too.

The story goes that Nobel was racked with guilt about unwittingly being the creator of a deadly weapon that he donated his fortune to the Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Peace.

Noteworthy 20th Century Chemists

During the 20th century, advancements by chemistry scientists mushroomed and branched out into important sub-disciplines that are being taught today.

solar panels in green field
The modern world owes inventions like solar energy panels to chemistry scientists. - Source: Unsplash

Linus Pauling

Hailed as one of the most important chemistry scientists to have ever lived, Linus Pauling (1901) to 1994) single-handedly invented the molecular biology of today which is the study of human proteins and acids and quantum chemistry which is looking at the relationships between the smallest parts in the atom. You can also thank Pauling for his work on ionic bonds.

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Pauling spent his life as a nuclear disarmament activist and won both the Nobel Peace Prize and Nobel Laureate in chemistry.

Dorothy Hodgkin

As another Nobel Laureate, Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) discovered the structure of proteins and molecules in the body which massively impacted both medicine and biochemistry. Most notably she worked on the structure of vitamin B12, insulin, and penicillin. As an advocate for the importance of insulin in the role of diabetes, she is deservingly one of the most famous chemistry scientists of our time.

Kathleen Lonsdale

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) was the first woman scientist to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. She was subsequently awarded numerous titles for her work in crystallography which is the fascinating arrangement of atoms within crystals.

As an influential researcher on both diamonds and the structure of benzene, Lonsdale was a forerunner for pacifism and inspiration to the female community of scientists across the whole world.

Keen to know more? If the subject of chemistry lights a fire in you, make sure you learn all that you can whenever you can about this important and fascinating subject. Find out about private chemistry tutors to suit your level of ability and affordability.

Did you know that when you use a Superprof tutor, your first lesson could be free? Remember that chemistry is all around us, all day and every day, understanding how it works could open your mind up in ways you could not imagine.

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.