MadSci Network: Science History

Re: How was sodium bicarbonate discovered?

Date: Wed Nov 29 22:55:27 2000
Posted By: Chris Fellows, Post-doc/Fellow, Chemistry, University of Sydney
Area of science: Science History
ID: 974159248.Sh

Sodium bicarbonate was discovered by two workers at a college of medicine in Berlin in the year 1800. At the time there was a lot of interest in the properties and behaviour of what was called 'fixed air' (carbon dioxide). This strange material generated the bubbles in fermenting beer mash, could be made by adding acid to soda (sodium carbonate) or pearl ash (potassium carbonate), and was somehow made in the lungs of animals from the component in ordinary air already named oxygen by the famous chemist Lavoisier.

My reference (J. R. Partington's History of Chemistry) suggests that potassium bicarbonate was discovered by bubbling carbon dioxide through a solution of potassium hydroxide and sodium carbonate. As sodium bicarbonate is less soluble in water than potassium hydroxide, sodium carbonate, or potassium carbonate, I expect the reaction was something like this:

2 KOH(aq) + 2CO2(g) + Na2CO3)(aq) --> K2CO3(aq) + 2NaHCO3(s)

The two researchers involved apparently made this discovery independently; one was a professor, named Sigismund Friedrcih Hermbstaedt (1760-1833) and t'other held the position of apothecary and had the euphonius name of Valentin Rose (1762-1807)

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