Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge

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Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge Biography

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge (February 8, 1794 – March 25, 1867) was born in Hamburg, Germany. Chemist and pharmacist, famous for discovering caffeine in 1820, after being encouraged to study coffee beans by renowned German scientist Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

Runge is considered one of the most prominent scientists of the 19th century. However, he was little appreciated at the time. Among his most outstanding findings are: atropine, aniline, phenol, quinine, pyrrole, and tar distilled dyes, as well as chromatography. Throughout his academic career he served as a professor at the universities of Berlin and Wroclaw, subsequently worked for a pharmaceutical company in which he sought financial support to make his discoveries profitable. However, his efforts were ignored.

Studies and beginnings

He was born into a humble family that lived in Billwerder (Hamburg). His father was a Lutheran pastor. He studied at the primary school located in Schiffbeck, after a few years he began to be interested in science, a passion he has cultivated since then. After carrying out his basic academic training, he chose as a profession the pharmaceutical company, an area in which she quickly excelled, thus earning her own livelihood since she was young. At the beginning of the 1810s, he observed how a drop of belladonna increased the diameter of the pupil of the eye in a cat, thus discovering the mydriatic effect of the plant. In 1816, he entered the University of Berlin, where he studied medicine, two years later he continued his training in Göttingen, the city in which he carried out his practices in chemistry.


At the end of his formative period in Göttingen, he moved to Jena, where shortly thereafter he obtained his Ph.D. in Physics, after presenting an essay in which he delved into the poisoning with Belan and Belladonna. At that time he had as a Professor of Chemistry Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, a renowned German chemist who invited Johann Wolfgang Goethe to observe Runge’s discovery about the effect of belladonna on the pupil, for this the young scientist presented himself with a cat, which had pupils of different diameter, impressed by his discovery, Goethe gave him a box of coffee beans and asked him to analyze the chemical composition of coffee, research that resulted in the discovery of caffeine in 1820.

Before his great discovery, he returned to Berlin, where he began to work as a university professor while continuing to work as a pharmacist. During this period, he lived with the famous physicist Johann Christian Poggendorf who was his school partner in Schiffbeck. Together, they turned their home into a laboratory, where they conducted numerous experiments. At the beginning of the 1820s, he carried out various studies related to indigo dye and its chemical composition (salts and metal oxides), information that was part of his doctoral thesis. He later published Recent phytochemical discoveries, a work in which he delved into this area of ​​science, seeking to establish scientific phytochemistry.

During his stay in Berlin, he began teaching about plants and technical chemistry. In 1823, he traveled to Paris to continue studying, later moved to Wroclaw for a short time, then visited Switzerland, France, Germany, Holland, and England. After traveling through Europe, Runge settled in Wroclaw, a city where he served as an associate professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Wroclaw, without receiving a fixed salary. In the course of these years he gave various conferences and focused on his research, with the goal of carrying out chemical studies that had a practical benefit; a short time later he left his job at the university to devote himself fully to research. In 1832 he was hired to direct the technical management of a chemical factory sponsored by the Prussian government, located in Oranienburg.

While working at the factory, he discovered the aniline and phenol by distilling the coal tar, aware of the entrepreneurial potential of this discovery, he sought the support of the company. However, the factory director rejected the proposals proposed by Runge. For this discovery, he was exalted at the Industrial Congress in London and was later awarded in Berlin. For this same period, he investigated the intensities of the colors through the filter paper. In 1852 he was fired after being accused of working for a short time, an accusation that was linked to the academic activity of the scientist, who at this time focused on his studies and published about seven books. Runge lived for a short time of the pension of the company, which stopped arriving after the death of the owner.

The last years of his life faced serious financial problems, falling into oblivion. However, he continued to carry out research on practical chemistry, produced artificial fertilizers and wrote several books, including maintenance letters, a book in which he gave advice on the domestic environment, such as preparations, recipes, and Tricks to eliminate stains and odors. After a long academic career the scientist died on March 25, 1867, in Oranienburg, was buried in the municipal cemetery.

Although his studies and approaches were little appreciated in his time, currently Runge, he is considered one of the most relevant scientists of the nineteenth century.

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge doodle

Google honored the scientist on the 225th anniversary of his birth, becoming the center of the Doodle on February 8th. In the image, the scientist is seen surrounded by his discoveries such as caffeine and the mydriatic effect of belladonna on the cat’s eyes.

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