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Who Was Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge and How He Changed the World

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the life and work of Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge on his 225th birthday.

Runge was a German analytical chemist who discovered caffeine. He is also regarded as the originator of paper chromatography, the technique for separating dissolved chemical substances.

Born near Hamburg on 8 February 1794, Runge expressed his interest in chemistry from an early age. He started experimenting as a teenager and identified the pupil dilating effects of belladonna plant’s extract.

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge earned a medical degree from the University of Jena in 1819 and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Berlin in 1822. He toured Europe for three years after which he taught chemistry at the University of Breslau until 1831.

He then took up a post as a chemist in a chemical factory at Oranienburg, where he worked until 1852 before being dismissed in acrimonious circumstances. After leaving that chemical company, Runge continued working privately as a chemist.

Runge’s contributions to the world include the discovery of the first coal tar dye, the identification of caffeine, and origination of paper chromatography – the separation of a fluid into its component parts. He also wrote two books describing his use of paper chromatography to separate chemical ingredients.

Runge identified caffeine in 1819 after being encouraged to analyze coffee by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German literary figure who also saw himself as an investigator of nature.

The chemist is also known for pioneering a new way of dyeing clothes. Additionally, he identified and named components of the dyes, including carbolic acid, now called phenol.

Runge also devised a method for extracting sugar from beet juice besides being one of the first scientists to isolate quinine (the drug used for malaria treatment)

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge died on 25th March 1867, at the age of 73.
Despite making multiple discoveries advancing his scientific field, Runge is said to have lived the last years of his life in poverty and obscurity.

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