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Kekule, August

Category: Scientist


Friedrich August Kekulé, later Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz (7 September 1829 – 13 July 1896), was a German chemist and is regarded as one of the principal founders of modern organic chemistry, the chemistry of carbon-based compounds.

Kekulé published a paper on the tetravalency of carbon in Liebig's journal "Annalen Der Chemie" in 1857, but although Archibald Scott Couper came to the same conclusion concerning the tetravalency of carbon about the same time,  Kekulé extended the concept, in 1858, to include the idea that carbon is able to link in chains, thus laying the foundation for structural chemistry.  In a famous reverie [see observation] he determined that the structure of benzene was a closed, hexagonal, six-membered ring. 

Kekulé was also instrumental in trying to get a common consensus from other chemists on nomenclature and definitions of atom, molecule, and equivalency.  He initiated the First International Congress of Chemists held at Karlsruhe in 1860 with this goal in mind.  Kekulé published his "Lehrbuch Organischen Chemie" in 1861, and in 1862 published the theory of unsaturated carbon compounds.

In 1890 came a highpoint in Kekulé's life--the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the benzene ring theory at the Deutsche Chemische Gesellshaft in Berlin. Here he delivered the paper "Ueber die Konstitutionen de Pyridins" to the general assembly.


In 1895, Kekulé was ennobled by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, giving him the right to add "von Stradonitz" to his name, referring to a possession of his patrilineal ancestors in Stradonice, Bohemia. This title was used by his son, genealogist Stephan Kekulé von Stradonitz.

Although his renown rests on his discoveries, Kekulé was also an excellent teacher and three of the first five Nobel prizes in chemistry went to his students – Jacobus van’t Hoff [1901], Emil Fischer [1902] and Adolf von Baeyer [1905].

Reflecting upon his life in a speech at Bonn in 1892, Kekulé attributed his success to an interest in architecture which enabled him to think about the spatial relationships of groups of atoms; his extensive travels which enabled him to meet other notable chemists and discuss ideas; and finally his ‘visions’ or hypnagogic ‘dreams’

He also appears to have attracted people like him.  Kekulé's pupil Van 't Hoff, who at the age of twenty-two wrote the essentials of La Chimie dans l'Espace, seems to have shared the ability to have hypnagogic ‘dreams’.

It is worth adding that there was not universal approval for this method of gaining inspiration. Berthelot was somewhat disdainful concerning Wurtz, the teacher of Kekulé, Van 't Hoff and Le Bel. When some friend told Berthelot not to take the atomic theory too seriously, atoms having no objective reality, Berthelot growled:

"Wurtz has seen them!"

Kekulé’s achievements in context

For organic chemists, the theory of structure provided dramatic new clarity of understanding, and a reliable guide to both analytic and especially synthetic work. As a consequence, the field of organic chemistry developed explosively from this point. 

But, in describing Kekule’s place in scientific achievement these breakthroughs can be also seen in the wider context of the entire field of science.  In order to explain, we have summarised all the findings we have made so far on this website and placed his work in this context.  In doing this we have pulled together the work of people like Plato, Leibniz, Dalton, Socrates, Lemaitre, Oken, Pauli, Soddy, Schrodinger, Einstein, Szent-Gyorgyi, Spinoza, Swedenborg, Kanada, Planck, Plotinus, Aristotle, Bergson, Chandra Bose, Eddington, Jeans, Kant, de Vallemont, Lao Tzu, Babbage, Fechner, Kabir, Kammerer, Jami, Jili, Blake, Bohr, the Zohar and Shaivism, and so on and so on…


There is a great sea of Energy, an ocean of unlimited potential and this sea of energy is used to create the effects of both apparent mass and radiation ie Energy = mass AND electromagnetic radiation. This energy is either ordered or unordered [chaos].


Atoms of ordered energy spread like a matrix in three dimensions in this sea of energy, it is like a soup of ‘particles’ everywhere. 

Everything in the universe is made of 'particles/atoms' of this ordered energy – they are 'programmed' [analogously] to offer a certain behaviour according to the class they are in.  An ‘oxygen’ atom is thus not some physical thing it is a ‘programmed object’ that displays the properties of oxygen


The particles/atoms are exactly the same - all atoms are the same, but they are 'programmed' to appear differently and fire differently.  'Electromagnetic' particles/atoms are no different they just display different properties. 

Aggregates/classes/entity types

Atoms group together to form aggregates [many synonymous names here – classes, entities etc]. A water molecule, for example, is an aggregate and is a set of exactly the same particles that having aggregated into an occurrence of the entity 'water', and display the behaviour of water. 

Aggregation of atoms confers new functions on the aggregate. 

In other words, the process of aggregation is the means by which new function is introduced into the universe.  The atom is essentially a functional object – it is spirit, ordered energy.  Each atom has the full complement of functions [the functions of the universe], but according to the aggregate to which it belongs it has only some functions turned ‘on’ – activated.   

The proportions in the formula H2O simply describe the rules by which the particles aggregate - the rules of attraction and ‘coalescing’.  But the structure of the grouping is also important, as by different structures, different functions can be conferred.

Aggregates of form

A crystal is an apparently solid material whose constituent atoms are arranged in an orderly repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions.  The crystal is the basic building block of form.  It is obtained by arranging atoms into lattice frameworks which appear to be ‘solid’, they exhibit the property of apparent solidity. 

Everything is made of crystals – not just minerals.  DNA is crystalline, protein is crystalline, even water is crystalline.  All crystals are aggregates, but not all aggregates are crystals.  Cells are aggregates made of crystals, for example.


In order for there to be ‘form’, atoms are combined in structures  - three dimensional structures.  The structure is a lattice framework – the crystal – and is thereby an aggregate.  In essence therefore, form is made up of functions organised into structures – it is mathematically arranged energy, ‘coalesced’ function.  It is worth pointing out that Szent-Gyorgyi even made the suggestion that proteins in living organisms could act as semiconductors.

Whenever a chemist wants to show the composition of a chemical compound, he first and foremost uses a chemical formula, but a formula of course does not describe the three dimensional structure of the aggregate [molecules or compounds etc], nor does it show how the atoms are arranged.  In order to show this he uses a system of co-ordinates in a lattice structure.  Many chemical compounds exist in different isomeric forms, which have different structures but the same overall chemical formula. A ‘structural formula’ indicates the arrangements of atoms in a way that a chemical formula cannot.


A chemical formula without the use of any structure has a form like the following CH3–CH2–OH or CH3CH2OH. 

And this is where Kekulé comes in as he devised ways of being able to map these structures.  Furthermore he realised that the same formula could provide different structures each of which demonstrated different properties – proof, one would have thought, that this is a functional ‘software’ system.

Isaac Asimov - Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology  (1996, p. 321):

 Kekulé found that if the six carbon atoms formed a hexagonal ring, and a hydrogen atom attached to each carbon atom, a stable molecule was formed.  The theory that organic molecules could form rings and chains, led to the solution of many structural problems.


Kekulé's idea of assigning certain atoms to certain positions within the structure, and schematically connecting them using what he called their "Verwandtschaftseinheiten" ("affinity units", now called "valences" or "bonds"), was based largely on evidence from chemical reactions, in other words by displays of properties again.

The repulsive and attractive forces

 The world of chemistry talks about ‘bonds’ and valences’ these days as if everyone knew what they were.  But try to find a definition and you would be hard put to do so.  And this is because the very thinking behind bonds has been lost.

What holds atoms together to form these crystals?  The forces of attraction and repulsion.  There is obviously no physical bond, the forces are entirely functional.  The repulsive and attractive forces thus control the aggregation of particles and determine their class and how they behave.  ‘Gravity’ doesn't exist, it is a sub behaviour of the overall forces of attraction. 


The same forces determine things like molecular weight – which is a comparative measure - and is based on the intensity of attraction and repulsion between atoms, like a sliding scale of balance.

Many of Ritter's researches were guided by a search for polarities – opposites - in the several "forces" of nature, and for the relation between those "forces" – two of the assumptions of Naturphilosophie.  In some descriptions this theory is called duality, but the main name for this is the theory of Contrast, and it is a key plank in the Strategy of the Great Work.

Kekulé’s valence theory resulted from the observation that the number of atoms of a particular element [class] can be associated with a certain number of the atoms of another element [class]. Kekulé concluded in 1858 that hydrogen can take one, oxygen two, nitrogen three, carbon four bonds with other atoms.

Isaac Asimov - Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology  (1996, p. 308):
Kekulé also pointed out that carbon atoms can combine with one another and form molecules consisting of carbon chains, other atoms being attached to the other free valences which are not saturated by the chain formation.


All particles in the universe are actually suspended in a force field or matrix of repulsion and attraction.  Everything is invisibly held together by lines of communication that repel or attract.  A vast web with silken threads of force.

Particles do not move, as such, they intercommunicate.  This is why photons behave like waves and particles.  They are ‘waves’ and particles/atoms.  They are communicating the whole time [wave], but also displaying their properties eg ultraviolet properties. 

The universe is a vast collection of atoms that are inter-communicating the entire time with each other, forever executing functions depending on whether they are in the right state to be invoked.

Niels Bohr - Atomic Physics and the Description of Nature" (1934)
…. particles are abstractions, their properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other systems

Energy recycling


In their mad rush to declaim Kekulé’s achievement, a number of eminently forgettable Chemistry professors have fumbled in the archives and found papers – such as an 1854 paper published in the Paris journal Methode de Chemie by the French chemist Auguste Laurent, in which an illustration clearly shows the carbon atoms of benzene arranged in a hexagonal ring. Two other scientists, Archibald Scott Couper of Scotland and Joseph Loschmidt of Austria are also said to have known about the structure of benzene.

But in doing so, these people have removed the one key part of Kekulé’s vision – the ouroboros.  The ouroboros is a symbol of energy recycling and it is to be found around every ‘cosmic egg’.

Every atom is a cosmic egg, but more importantly every Entity/Aggregate is a cosmic egg.  The eggs are in a sense nested, like a Russian doll, but only figuratively.  As the aggregates execute their function or functions [remembering that an aggregate acquires new functions once it becomes an aggregate], then energy is used in the execution [derived from the ocean of potential energy surrounding it]. 


This is an integrated system, remember, thus the entire structure of the universe and all its substructures eggs within eggs - are all executing functions, and they leave behind a log of their activity – a trail of energy – and this trail is ‘the past’ – time.  The universe is expanding because the functions in it are executing and creating more ‘time’ – the past.  The past simply looks like a vast loom of interconnected threads, but the threads, being communication channels – can be travelled.

Thus when Kekulé drew a picture of an aggregate [in this case benzene], surrounded by an ouroboros [and it could have been a torque, or torus as all are symbols used to try to help people understand this basic concept], he was being shown by spirit helpers that there is continual energy recycling around every aggregate.  Energy sucked in and used to create the tapestry of time.

Cosmic eggs and time

Time only exists within aggregates -  symbolically the cosmic eggs - because each execution of the functions/programs creates a log of activity that is time.  Thus there is a trace of past activity - and this is why we have past lives being accessible - and there is a trace of the future plan for the universe [the Great Work] which is why some people can prophecy

Dr David Bohm ‘The Implicate Order’

 “the notion of timeless laws that govern [all] the universe doesn’t seem to hold up, because time itself is part of that necessity ………. primary physical laws cannot be discovered by a science that attempts to break the world into its parts……  there is an implicate enfolded order which exists in an unmanifested state and is the foundation upon which all manifest reality rests… parts are seen to be in immediate connection, in which their dynamical relationships depend in an irreducible way on the state of the whole system …. Thus one is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness”


The Cosmic Egg has levels and layers the ancients called 'the Elements' [Earth, Water, Air, Fire - symbolic] .  These Elements are in time and this is where all the functions related to what we might term the physical exist.

Bohr’s model is not of the atom – it is of the cosmic egg representing an aggregate.

Breakthrough to Creativity – Dr Shafica Karagulla

Niels Bohr the well known atomic scientists had a strange dream in his student days.  He dreamed that he was on a sun which consisted of burning gas.  There were planets that moved swiftly around this sun attached by thin filaments.  When he awoke he had the model of the atom which is substantially the same today.


Friedrich August Kekulé:  A Scientist And Dreamer - Mary E. Rothermich

Friedrich August Kekulé was born on September 7, 1829 in Darmstadt, Germany. His family descended from a Czech line of a Bohemian noble family. As a youth his hobbies included hiking, botany, collecting butterflies, and sketching. His friends remembered that he enjoyed the opportunity to debate, had a quick wit and was very amiable. He started his schooling at the Gymnasium in Darmstadt and was a good student with an aptitude for languages, which eventually led to his ability to speak French, Italian, and English, as well as his native German. He also had a talent for drawing and it was his family's intent that he become an architect. Although he had delicate health as a youth, he became a robust, healthy adolescent with an interest in gymnastics by the time he graduated in 1847. He loved dancing and juggling, and was a talented and entertaining mimic.


In the winter of 1847 Kekulé entered the University of Giessen with the intention of studying architecture. It was here that he happened to enroll in a chemistry class under Justus von Liebig. This decision would change his life forever. He became so interested in the material that he changed his course of study to chemistry, despite the fact that his family told him there was no future in chemistry. His persistence eventually won their approval and he graduated in 1851. Kekulé then went to Paris to continue work on his doctoral degree. He became the student and friend of Charles Gerhardt and studied under Charles Adolphe Wurtz and Jean-Baptiste Andre Dumas. It was here that he learned the unitary theory of chemistry, the theory of radicals and Type Theory.

His first work after receiving his doctorate was as an assistant to Adolf von Planta at Reichenau, Switzerland. But, he was not really happy there. Intellectual stimulation was missing and he was barely making a living doing sundry chemical work such as assaying mineral water. He only stayed there for a year and half. About this time his former teacher, Liebig, recommended him for a position at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London working with John Stenhouse.

Kekulé arrived in 1853 and soon met several other former students of Liebig. The one who became a great friend was A. W. Williamson. Williamson was working on trying to classify organic compounds by means of structure. Thus were the seeds sown for his later discoveries, these discussions with his friend Williamson and those he had with another friend, Mueller, were key to his later ‘visions’ of structure, the subsequent elucidation of the tetravalency of carbon and the ability of carbon atoms to form chains.

About 1855, Kekulé failed to gain a position at the Polytechnic School of Zurich--his old teacher Liebig would not recommend him. But, in 1856, at the suggestion of Liebig and of Bunsen, he enrolled at the University of Heidelberg to become a privatdocent. Having passed the necessary exams, he began teaching organic chemistry in the summer term. In those days, chemistry was still not highly regarded and Kekulé received no salary for his work.  He had to build his own lecture room and lab at his residence—using funds provided by his stepbrother Karl.


Despite this, Kekulé considered this time a happy one and it was in this year that he met his first wife. Robert Bunsen had designed a gas laboratory burner and Kekulé wanted to make use of it. But he had a problem, as he only had enough gas pressure at night and so could not use the burner during the day. Kekulé went to see William Drory, the manager of the gas works. Not only was he successful at getting day time gas pressure, but he also received an invitation to the Drory home for dinner. And it was here that he met Stephanie. Kekulé married his ‘dear Stephanie’ in June 1862.

In 1858, Kekulé had been offered the chair of Chemistry at the University of Ghent in Belgium. He had been promised a new lab, designed and equipped to his specifications, and a new classroom. He accepted the post and began to work ‘long and hard hours’. Laboratory work, lectures, and work on his book "Lehrbuch Organischen Chemie" took up the days and he often spent hours after midnight preparing for the lectures and laboratory work of the next day. Thus many of Kekule’s early discoveries were inspired by his new love, his new son, and the stimulating work environment he had been given.

In May, 1863 Kekulé and Stephanie had a son. He was healthy, but Stephanie died only two years later. After Stephanie’s death, and for the first time in his adult life, Kekulé found he could not work. Eventually he went back to his research. But it was at this time that he had his second famous dream – the benzene ring.  As such the vision then was as much inspired by grief, as by any other circumstances.

In May, he presented his paper "Notes on Some Products of Substitution of Benzene" to the Royal Academy of Belgium in which he reported his conclusions that the structure of benzene was a closed, hexagonal, six-membered ring. After this he had his research team continue to synthesize new compounds which would ensure the acceptance of his theories.


By this time,  Kekulé had assembled a research team of talented students and research workers -  Alfred von Baeyer, James Dewar, Albert Landenberg, Heinrich Brunck, Karl Glaser, Wilhelm Koerner, and Hermann Wichelhaus. Later, Kekulé's oscillation theory of rapidly interchanging double bonds in the benzene ring explained the existence of only one disubstituted derivative in various syntheses--a problem that his earlier conception of the ring structure of benzene did not address. These findings contributed to the synthesis of aromatics and, thus, contributed to the aniline dye industry of 1872.  In January of 1865, Wurtz delivered to the Chemical Society of Paris the paper "The Constitution of Aromatic Substances".


Kekulé  remained in Ghent until 1867, when he was called to Bonn to take the chair vacated by A W Hofman.  By 1874, after all of his years of hard work, Kekulé's health began to fail. In 1876, he married his former housekeeper. Although she bore him three children, this was not a happy marriage. During this time he contracted measles and he never fully recovered. Despite these difficulties, he was elected Rector of the University of Bonn in 1877.  

Kekulé held the post at Bonn until his death in 1896, the same year in which Alfred Nobel died.


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