The Mistake in Carl Bosch’s PhD Thesis

“It’s starting to spit!” exclaimed Fritz Haber one afternoon in the laboratory of Physical Chemistry at the University of Karlsruhe sometime in the middle of the year 1909. He was highly excited, realizing his achievement to synthesize ammonia from its elements nitrogen and hydrogen for the very first time! The credit for the industrial production of ammonia (more than 100 megatons per year) belongs, however, to Carl Bosch, an expert in high-pressure technology, and Alwin Mittasch, an expert in catalyst development, both working at BASF (Germany). In his thesis entitled ‘Über die Kondensation von Dinatriumacetondicarbonsäurediethylester mit Bromacetophenon’ (undertaken in Leipzig, 1896–1898), Bosch envisaged the synthesis of a derivative of heptamethylene (a cycloheptane derivative). Professor Athanassios Giannis and his co-workers now found that the reaction actually results in the formation of a highly functionalized cyclopentanone.

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