Ferdinand Frederic Henri Moissan


Ferdinand Frederic Henri Moissan
(1852-1907)

Henri Moissan was born in Paris on September 28, 1852. His advanced education began in the College de Meaux and later in the Edmond Fremy's laboratory at the Musee d'Histoire Naturelle, where he attended lectures by E. H. Sainte-Claire Deville and Henri Debray. He was appointed to a junior position in the Agronomic Institute in 1879 and he gained his doctoral degree in 1880 with a thesis on the cyanogen series.

Moissan's first researches concerned the interchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the leaves of plants. He was soon to leave biology for the field of inorganic chemistry, where his early work was on the oxides of iron-group metals and chromium and a study of the chromous salts. In 1884 he turned his attention to fluorine chemistry, preparing some organic and phosphorous derivatives of that element. The following year he discovered that solutions of potassium fluoride in hydrogen fluoride at certain strengths remained liquid and conducted electrolytically at sub-zero temperatures. A year later he successfully electrolyzed these solutions to isolate fluorine for the first time. He made a full study of the properties of the gas and its reactions with other elements.
In 1892, Moissan theorized that diamonds could be synthesized by crystallizing carbon under pressure from molten iron. He designed and developed the electric-arc furnace, attaining temperatures up to 3,500'C, to assist him in work which led to the production of tiny artificial stones. He subsequently used the furnace to volatilize many substances which had been regarded as infusible and to prepare many new compounds, particularly carbides, silicides and borides; in 1891 he discovered carborundum. He prepared the hydrides of calcium, sodium and potassium and showed them to be non-conductive and, using the electric furnace, isolated many metals.
He died suddenly in Paris on February 20, 1907, shortly after his return from the prize-giving ceremony in Stockholm.


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