Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, the renowned German analytical chemist is getting his 225th birthday celebrated with a Google Doodle. The doodle, seen on Google’s homepage today, shows the impact of his research, which was an accidental discovery of the chemical composition of coffee beans, leading to the isolation of caffeine. Runge was born outside of Hamburg on this day in 1795 and he expressed interest in chemistry from an early age and began conducting experiments as a teenager.
The son of a Lutheran pastor, Runge accidentally splashed a drop of belladonna extract in his eye during one such experiment, where he took note of its pupil-dilating effects. He was asked to reproduce belladonna’s effects as part of a demonstration while studying under renowned chemist and inventor Johann Wolfang Dobereiner at the University of Jena ten years later. While doing the demonstration for Dobereiner’s friend, the writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Runge once again showed belladonna’s effects.
Goethe handed Runge a bag of rare coffee beans and suggested him to analyze their chemical makeup. This led to the isolation of the active ingredient of coffee beans, known and recognized as caffeine today. After the molecular isolation, Runge went on to earn his doctorate from the University of Berlin and then taught at the University of Breslau until 1831. At this point, he left academia to take a position at a chemical company.
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At the new job, he invented the first coal tar dye and a related process used for dyeing clothes. Among his contributions include isolation of quinine (the drug used to treat malaria), originator of paper chromatography and even devising a method for extracting sugar from beet juice. If you had coffee this morning and got the strong dose of caffeine then you know whom to thank.