Are you drinking a cup of coffee? Be sure to thank Friedlieb Runge for that burst of energy!
Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge is the 19th-century German chemist who discovered caffeine. People had already been drinking coffee for hundreds of years, but Runge was the first person to isolate caffeine and realize that it was the crucial ingredient that made the popular beverage energizing.
Runge is the subject of today’s “Google Doodle.” February 8, 2019, would have been the scientist’s 225 birthday.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Friedlieb Runge Analyzed Coffee Beans & Discovered Caffeine in 1819
Friedlieb Runge isolated and identified caffeine in 1819. His most memorable contribution to science, and to the billions of coffee lovers around the world, can be traced back to an accident that occurred during an experiment.
Runge loved to experiment from the time he was a teenager. According to the American Chemical Society, he was handling the belladonna plant when he inadvertently splashed a drop of the extract in his eye. The result was that his pupils became dilated.
Fast forward to 1819. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a statesman and writer, was visiting Runge’s lab. He asked Runge to demonstrate the effects of belladonna by using it on a cat. Goethe thought the trick was interesting and decided to gift Runge with rare coffee beans. He encouraged Runge to figure out what makes the beans energizing. Runge accepted the challenge and discovered caffeine within just a few months.
According to the Royal Society of Chemistry in Britain, cited by Newsweek, Runge called the compound “kaffein.” The word caffeine “was included in the medical vocabulary in 1823.”
2. Runge Became a Chemistry Professor After Earning His Doctorate
Friedlieb Runge made his caffeine discovery while a student at the University of Jena. The American Chemical Society notes that he was a student of German pharmacist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, who was associated with von Goethe.
Runge next attended the University of Berlin. He earned his doctoral degree in chemistry in 1822.
Runge got a job teaching chemistry. He worked as a professor at the University of Breslau until 1831.
3. Runge Played an Integral Role in Treating Malaria
Friedlieb Runge’s is credited for a major contribution to medicine. Through his experiments with purine chemistry, he isolated quinine, one of the first scientists to do so.
Quinine is a compound used in prescription medications to treat malaria, which can be deadly when not treated immediately. The World Health Organization reports that the number of people dying from malaria each year has decreased significantly since the year 2000, in large part due to prevention and treatment efforts.
4. Runge Created a New Method for Dying Clothes
Friedlieb Runge helped make the world a more colorful place by changing how people dyed their clothes. After leaving his professor job in 1831, he went to work for a chemical factory in Oranienburg, Germany.
While there, he was credited for creating the first coal tar dye. The first color was aniline blue. The American Chemical Society wrote in 2002 that the compounds Runge experimented with “provided the basis for many industries that generate products such as dyes, cosmetics, drugs, paints, and flavorings.”
During this time period, Runge invented paper chromatography. It’s a method of analyzing chemical mixtures and separating different colored chemicals. It’s been widely used as a teaching method.
Runge worked at the factory until 1852, when he was kicked out over a conflict with the owners. He, unfortunately, spent the final 15 years of his life struggling financially and without the means to come up with more scientific breakthroughs. He died in 1867 at the age of 73.
5. Friedlieb Runge Was the Son of a Lutheran Pastor & Grew Up Near Hamburg, Germany
Friedlieb Runge was born in Billwerder, a small town near Hamburg, Germany, on February 8, 1794.
According to Chemistry World, Runge’s father was a Lutheran pastor. His mother died when he was 12. The family reportedly struggled with poverty during the Napoleonic Wars. Runge does not appear to have ever been married. February 8, 2019, would have been his 225 birthday.