Pierre-Joseph Pelletier: The Mystery Cinchona Bark


On 19 July 1842, Pierre-Joseph Pelletier (1788–1842) passed away in Paris, France. He was a French chemist who isolated quinine and helped found the chemistry of alkaloids. Pelletier was professor at the School of Pharmacy, Paris, and, from 1832, director. In 1817, in collaboration with the chemist Joseph-Bienaimé Caventou (1795–1877), he isolated chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that is essential to the process of photosynthesis.


He was also one of the pioneers of the study of plant alkaloid chemistry. Alkaloids are organic compounds that induce various effects in medicine, including painkillers and respiratory stimulants. Together with and Joseph Caventou (1795–1877), a student of pharmacy, they set up to solve the mystery of “cinchona bark.”

From the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India (March 2015): “In 1817, they tackled the problem that had baffled scientists for decades- wrestling the secrets of Peruvian barks that were so useful in malaria. After sweating out for months they isolated from the yellow bark, a sticky, pale yellow gum that could not be induced to crystallise. The gum was soluble in acid, alcohol, and ether and highly effective in malaria. The two men named the new chemical quinine after quinaquina the name given by Peruvian Indians to the bark. The announcement was made in 1820. Caventou and Pelletier prepared pure salts of quinine, had them tested clinically, and set up manufacturing facilities. They refused any profit from their discovery. Instead of patenting the extraction process they published the method of separation of quinine and cinchonine from the cinchona barks so that anyone could manufacture quinine. They received many honours; the most lucrative was Prix Monthyon of 10 thousand Francs awarded by the French Institute of Science.”

They also discovered brucine, strychnine, and veratrine. Some of these compounds soon found medicinal uses. Such applications marked the beginning of the gradual shift away from the use of crude plant extracts and toward the use of natural and synthetic compounds found in nature or formulated by the chemist. In 1823 Pelletier published analyses of several alkaloids, thus providing a basis for alkaloid chemistry. He did further important studies of other compounds, including caffeine, piperine, and picrotoxin.

From Catholic Encyclopedia (1911): “He had five children with his first wife, Aglae-Genevieve Vergez, who died in 1830. He remarried on December 1832 with Esther Courtin. As his colleague Augustin-Louis Cauchy testifies, Pelletier was a convinced Catholic.

—Pai-Dhungat, JV. “Caventou, Pelletier & – History Of Quinine.” Journal of the Association of Physicians of India • Vol 63 • March, 2015. Download.
Dr BS Kakkilaya, “Saga of Malaria Treatment.” Malaria: History 
Georges Dillemann, La vie de Joseph Pelletier, Revue d’Histoire de la Pharmacie Année 1989. Vol. 281-282 pp. 128-134.
Sloane, Thomas O’Conor. “Pierre-Joseph Pelletier.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company, 1911). Image: online.


Josef Hyrtl: Mind, Brain and Immutable Organic Laws


On 17 July 1894, Josef Hyrtl (1810–1894) died at Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He was an Austro-Hungarian anatomist and medical biologist. As a professor and museum curator at the University of Vienna, he was an influential 19th century scientist known for his popularization of the study of human anatomy.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) notes: “His inaugural address as rector had for its subject ‘The Materialistic Conception of The Universe of Our Time.’ In this he brought out very clearly the lack of logic in the materialistic view of the world and concluded: ‘When I bring all this together it is impossible for me to understand on what scientific grounds is founded this resurrection of the old materialistic view of… Epicurus and Lucretius. Nothing that I can see justifies it, and there is no reason to think that it will continue to hold domination over men’s minds.’”

One passage from this speech had influenced the faith of the German composer Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) near the end of his life. Quote from Bruckner’s diary (25 March 1894) referencing the speech by Prof. Josef Hyrtl:

Is the soul a product of the brain, which functions according to immutable organic laws, or is this brain rather one of those prerequisites through which the interaction of an immaterial soul-being with the world-in-space is transmitted?

Among his notable texts were: “Lehrbuch der Anatomie des Menschen”/“Textbook of Human Anatomy” (Prague, 1846), “Handbuch der topographischen Anatomie/“Handbook of topographical anatomy,” 2 vols., 8vo (Vienna, 1853), “Handbuch der Zergliederungs kunst”/“Manual of the Surgical Arts” (Vienna, 1860). One of the more famous anatomical specimen of which he had made a study was the skull of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791).

Walsh, J.J. “Joseph Hyrtl.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. (New York: Appleton, 1910).
Hyrtl, Josef. “Die materialistische Weltanschauung unserer Zeit.” University of Vienna, 1 Oct 1864. Quoted in Maier, Elisabeth. “A Hidden Personality: Access to an ‘Inner Biography’ of Anton Bruckner” in Bruckner Studies, Eds. Timothy L. Jackson & Paul Hawkshaw. (Cambridge, UK: University Press, 1997), 50.
“Mozart’s Skull: the Hyrtl Skull Collection at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.” The Appendix. Vol. 2, No. 2 (1 May 2014). Image online: http:// theappendix. net/

David Douglas: Science on the Verge of Another World


david douglas 31On 12 July 1834, David Douglas (1799–1834) died at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

A Scottish American biologist, he is most known for his exploration of the Highlands of Scotland, the Northwest of the United States, and the Hawaiian islands. Over eighty species of plants and animals have scientific names which include the designation douglasii in his honour.

A biography described the motivation necessary for Douglas to undertake some of his more distant journeys: “The stories the early explorers told of the west coast of America, and the specimens they sent back, had tantalized horticulturalists and botanists, as well as the general public. But the live plants remained elusive and unknown. The difficulties of journeying to this wild and inhospitable land at the right time to collect seeds, and then of transporting seeds and specimen safely home, seemed insurmountable. Now, however, the Horticultural Society saw the possibilities of glory, and in a leap of faith decided to despatch David Douglas, their newly proven prodigy…” (Mitchell et al., 2005).

Douglas himself recognized in these formidable terrains and their geological contrasts a manifestation of the Creator’s wisdom and power:

“Were the traveller permitted to express the emotions he feels when placed on such an astonishing part of the earth’s surface, cold indeed must his heart be to the great operations of Nature, and still colder towards Nature’s God, by whose wisdom and power such wonderful scenes were created, if he could behold them without deep humility and reverential awe. Man feels himself as nothing as if standing on the verge of another world. The death like stillness of the place, not an animal nor an insect to be seen far removed from the din and bustle of the world, impresses on his mind with double force the extreme helplessness of his condition, an object of pity and compassion, utterly unworthy to stand in the presence of a great and good, and wise and holy God, and to contemplate the diversified works of His hands!

Mitchell, Ann Lindsay, and Syd House. The Tree Collector: The Life and Explorations of David Douglas. (London, UK: Aurum Press, 2005), 32.
Wilson, W.F. David Douglas, Botanist at Hawaii. (Honolulu, HI: Honolulu Press, 1919), 32-33.  Image: Artwork for film Finding David Douglas (Lyman Museum, Hawaii).

Joseph LeConte: Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought


joseph leconte 2.png

On 06 July 1901, Joseph LeConte (1823–1901) passed away at Yosemite Valley, CA.

After studying at Franklin College in Athens, GA, and the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, NY, LeConte made his first expedition as a biologist with his cousin, John Lawrence LeConte (1825–1883), traveling over a thousand miles along the Upper Mississippi River in a birchbark canoe in 1844. This experience led him to study for a second graduate degree in the natural sciences, completed in 1851, under the guidance of notable American biologist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) at Harvard University.

Teaching at the University of South Carolina during Civil War and encountering various hardships, he moved to the University of California, Berkeley in 1868, where he worked with John Muir (1838–1914) and helped establish the Sierra Club. His published works included scientific papers on geology and ecology, and the textbooks Elements of Geology (1878), Religion and Science (1874), and Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought (1888).

“… evolution is the process by which the Divine plan is carried out. These two views, that which refers phenomena directly back to the primal intelligence, & that which refers them back to secondary & intermediate causes have always existed and will always exist. They do not exclude each other. They are two formulas for the same thing; the one the formula of religion, the other the formula of science. The one formula is an expression of the domain of faith, the other of the domain of knowledge…

“We see around us everywhere invariable laws. Now, intelligence in the presence of invariable laws, or acting through invariable laws, can attain results only by contrivance. It is impossible that there should be invariable laws without contrivance, or contrivance without invariable laws. We are hampered, conditioned, limited on every side, by the inviolable laws of Nature, and, in order to attain results, we are compelled to resort to indirect methods, to mechanical and other contrivances, in accordance with these laws… Now, Deity himself, if He acts by laws, must bring about results by what seem to us contrivances. Shall we then speak of Him, the unconditioned, as conditioned by the laws of Nature? With our limited faculties, we cannot do otherwise. We cannot speak of Him, we cannot even think of Him except under conditions. But, observe the difference betwixt Him and us, in this regard.

“These laws of Nature, which condition man, are external to him, and therefore, in the nature of a law of necessity. But, to the Deity, they are not external; they are the laws of his own being—they are the modes of operation of his own will, perfect, because He is perfect, invariable, because He is unchangeable. Thus, then, the laws of Nature are to Him not a law of necessity, but a law of freedom.”

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Peter Guthrie Tait: Unseen Universe


On 04 July 1901, Peter Guthrie Tait (1831–1901) died. He was a mathematical physicist known for his research on ‘knot theory’ and graph theory (Tait’s disproven conjecture stated that every 3-connected planar cubic graph had a path that passed through each vertex point only once), as well as additional mathematical research on quaternions, a number system that extends the complex number into three dimensions. These are defined as:tait 1

with the property:

tait 2.png

Many years later (1924), it was found in quantum mechanics that the spin state of electrons depends on the properties of quaternions. This research was published by Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (1900–1958).

Tait also researched the properties of the ozone layer and diatomic molecules in the presence of electrical discharge. He was the author of Elementary Treatise on Quaternions (1867), Treatise on Natural Philosophy, co-authored with Lord Kelvin (1824–1907) and Introduction to Quaternions (1873).

His book, The Unseen Universe: Or, Physical Speculations on a Future State (1875), co-authored with Balfour Stewart (1828–1887), had evinced his belief in the infinite divisibility of the continuum—“Indeed we are entire believers in the infinite depth of nature… To our minds it appears no less false to pronounce eternal that aggregation we call the atom, than it would be to pronounce eternal that aggregation we call the Sun. All this follows from the principle of Continuity, in virtue of which we make scientific progress in the knowledge of things and which leads us, whatever state of things we contemplate, to look for its antecedent in some previous state of things also in the Universe.” The quoted text above is from pages xiv-xv.

Stewart, Balfour and P.G. Tait. The Unseen Universe: Or, Physical Speculations on a Future State. (London, GB: MacMillan & Co., 1875), xiv-xv. Image: ART UK, Cambridge.

Charles Goodyear: Conscious of God’s Presence


charles goodyear 2a

On 01 July 1860, Charles Goodyear (1800–1860) passed away in New York, NY. He was known for his US patent for rubber vulcanization granted 1844. Rubber vulcanization introduces sulfur cross-linkages between individual polymer chains, which render the rubber material less sticky and more durable.

Regarding Goodyear’s religious views it was written: “He was noted in his religious life for his great liberality toward those differing from himself in opinion. He could not endure to hear other professed Christians spoken of in an uncharitable manner, and felt no sympathy with the violent attacks sometimes made in public addresses on Roman Catholics. He was a noble Christian gentleman… ”

“His humility was as conspicuous as his gentleness. ‘One who knew him thoroughly,’ says his pastor in his funeral discourse, says that ‘the most marked features of his religious character were deep consciousness of the evil of sin, and of his nothingness before God. Self reliant as he appeared as a business man, his soul was most humble before God, and he seemed more deeply conscious of his dependence upon Him, and need of forgiveness as well as of forbearance, than any other person with whose religious experience I have any intimate acquaintance.’ In his last hours, when reference was made to his useful works, he humbly and devoutly responded,What am I? To God be all the glory.’

Peirce, Bradford Kinney. Trials of an Inventor: Life and Discoveries of Charles Goodyear. (New York, NY: Carlton & Porter, 1868), 19-20217. Image: SimplyKnowledge.com.

Peter Waage: According to Number and Measure and Weight


peter waage 21

On 29 June 1833, Peter Waage (1833–1900) was born at Flekkefjord, Norway.

He is known for discovering, with his brother-in-law Cato Maximilian Guldberg (1836–1902), the “law of mass action” during the 1860s-1870s.

The law of mass action states that the rate of a chemical reaction is directly proportional to the product of the reactant concentrations to the power of their activity coefficient. It is usually written as:                                                                                                    waage - law of mass action

A speech given by Prof. Waage had acknowledged their work’s dependence on some earlier research, which he also framed in terms of the Biblical text of Wisdom 11:21.

“[Peter] Waage of Christiania (Oslo), Norway, known through Guldberg-Waage’s law, characterized Berzelius’ work on the fixed proportions as follows: — ‘Allow me on this occasion to point out one aspect off the great master’s significant work. Through his investigations, so genially and joyfully conducted, Berzelius recognized earlier and more clearly than any other chemist the truth of the remarkable law of nature “that God has arranged everything in nature according to number and measure and weight”.

His comments on Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779–1848) were in acknowledgement of their indebtedness to some of his earlier research. From chemistry-world, quote: “[T]hey [i.e. Berzelius and Léon Péan de-St.-Gilles (1832–1863)] found that the rate of progress towards equilibrium did depend upon the ‘active masses’ of substances present at the start of the reaction… [W]hen Maximilian Guldberg and Peter Waage eventually achieved this goal with their ‘law of mass action’ they acknowledged a substantial debt to his work.”

Interestingly, Waage had begun his primary education at the Bergen Cathedral School, about which wikipedia notes:

“The school is thought to have been founded in 1153 by Nicholas Breakspear (later Pope Adrian IV), making the school the second oldest in Norway together with Oslo Cathedral School and Hamar Cathedral School, which were founded the same year, one year after the founding of Trondheim Cathedral School.”

Sutton, Mike. “Chemistry for the Common Good.” ChemistryWorld. Royal Society. 1 March 2007.
Jorpes, Johan Erik. Jac. Berzelius: His Life and Work. Vol. 7. (Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Press, 1970), 121. Image: Univ. of Oslo: Dept. of Mathematics & Natural Sciences.