Popular Science Monthly/Volume 82/June 1913/The President of the Ninth International Congress of Applied Chemistry

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 82 June 1913  (1913) 
The President of the Ninth International Congress of Applied Chemistry by George Frederick Kunz




THE newly elected president of the Ninth International Congress of Applied Chemistry, Professor Paul Walden, was born near Riga in the Russian province Livonia July 27, 1863. Hence, although of German blood, he is by birth a Russian. He first attended the Real School in Riga, and then the Polytechnicum there, where he was one of the most apt and brilliant pupils of the great Ostwald. In Riga, he was assistant in the department of physics in 1885, and in 1888 in that of chemistry; in 1892 he became Privat-docent, and in 1894 professor of analytical and physical chemistry. Since 1896 he is assistant professor of inorganic and physical chemistry, and at the same time director of the Polytechnicum.

When Ostwald resigned his professorship of chemistry at the Polytechnicum, Walden became his successor, and the latter still holds this position at the present time. He received his degree of doctor of philosophy at Leipzig in 1891, that of master of chemistry at Odessa in 1893, that of doctor of chemistry at St. Petersburg in 1899 and that of doctor of engineering at Riga. The remarkable work performed by Professor Walden has been officially recognized by the bestowal of many important Russian orders; he is a commander of the Order of Vladimir and also of those of St. Anne and of Stanislaus. He is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg, and has laboratories both in Riga and in St. Petersburg. He is an honorary member of the London Chemical Society and of many other societies, and was selected as the Imperial Russian delegate to the Eighth International Congress of Applied Chemistry.

Professor Walden speaks Russian, Livonian, French and German fluently, and is familiar with English and Italian as well. In manner he is quiet, dignified and gentle, but alert and quick in his movements. He is about five feet eight inches in height and weighs some 175 pounds. His brown hair is brushed high on his forehead; he has light blue-gray eyes and fine teeth. He is a very fluent and ready speaker, and his delivery is at once easy and impressive. Always speaking directly to the point, his words are so well chosen and effective that invariably he holds the attention of his audience; there never can be any doubt as

to his meaning. The directness of his thought finds corresponding expression in his words and they carry conviction to the minds of his hearers, while his kindly smile serves to enlist their sympathies and approval.

His greatest work has been in stereochemistry. His work on the atomic transformation, the theory of solutions and other great problems is now classic. His literary activity has covered a wide field and he is the author of more than two hundred original scientific articles or books, nearly all on the subject of chemistry: physical chemistry, biochemistry and stereochemistry. For many years past his contributions to periodical publications such as the Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, Ostwald's Zeitschrift für physicalische Chemie, Lorenz's Zeitschrift für anorganische Chemie, etc., have been of the very highest value to science.

The biographical memoirs he has written of the eminent French chemist Berthelot, whose name is indissolubly associated with the science of thermochemistry, of the great Pasteur and of the celebrated propounder of the periodic law, the renowned Russian chemist Mendeleef, testify eloquently to Walden's intimate knowledge of the life and work of these great leaders of modern science.

Together with Carl Adam Bischoff, Professor Walden published his monumental work, the "Handbuch der Stereochemie," ably treating of this intricate and fascinating department of science. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the doctorate of Professor Ostwald, whose most brilliant and successful pupil he is, Walden issued his excellent biographical sketch of that great physical chemist and philosopher, and, we may add, enthusiastic Esperantist. Ostwald has said that he owes fifty per cent, of his reputation to Walden's biography. At this time Ostwald was appointed a director of the Polytechnicum, an honor enjoyed only by himself and three others, namely, Aristes, Arrhenius and Teppler.

Besides his original work, Walden has translated into the Russian language Fischer's " Organic Preparations," and also the renowned Lowell lectures by J. H. van't Hoff, delivered in Boston.

Russians are the best hosts in the world. Whereas, in the United States the expenses of the congress were born by the American committee and their friends, in Russia, where the railroads are owned by the government, during the late International Geological Congress the freedom of the railroads was offered to the visiting guests.

St. Petersburg, a magnificent city with its great museums, universities, art galleries and other institutions, will be a splendid meeting place, and the excursions that can be made from it will prove of the greatest interest and value to the visiting guests.

In accepting the office of President of the Ninth International Congress of Applied Chemistry, Professor Walden made the following remarks:

The choice which has just fallen upon me is a distinction of an altogether exceptional kind, and also a task of an exceptional kind. On behalf of Professor Konovaloff, who is absent, and who will assuredly regret his inability to take part in our common celebration, I can only express to you his thanks and his undoubted acceptance. In my own case, however, I realize mixed emotions. I say to myself: "Much honor, much work; many disappointments, many gray hairs!" In accepting this choice, we are fully aware that our powers will prove insufficient to do full justice to the duties entailed, but we see therein an honor rendered to our fatherland and to the great men, the great chemists of our country. I need only recall to your minds a few names; that of Lemonossoff, who one hundred and sixty years ago laid the foundation of modern chemistry; that of Grotthus, a Russian chemist of a century ago; that of Hessen, also a chemist, and finally I name to you our great fellow-countryman, recently deceased, Mendeleef, the creator of the periodic system of the elements. I assume that the honor you have just accorded to our fatherland is also addressed to these great men. We are the inheritors of the deeds these men accomplished. It is not the mind alone that rules congresses, the heart also must have its say. Of the scope of my mind, I am, naturally, not qualified to speak, but in what concerns my heart, in what concerns my ardent wish to do my best, to give you the best possible reception, as to this I believe I can safely speak, as to this I shall willingly and gladly compete with the gentlemen who have received us in former congresses, and if three years hence, in transmitting my office into other hands, I may perhaps be able to speak in my turn with the sunny humor of our president of to-day, then I shall be content. I thank you.

As the leader, director and presiding officer of the Ninth Congress of Applied Chemistry, Professor Walden possesses many notable qualities which must aid in rendering that congress a success. With its complex composition, made up as it is of as many, or perhaps more countries than there are known chemical elements, we might say that no one was better qualified than Professor Walden, with his intimate knowledge of the art of combining and ordering the various chemical elements, and we have no doubt that he will be equally successful with the various and eminently individual human equations in the congress, and that they will be so welded as to constitute a thoroughly homogeneous assembly, which will be brought to a close in a manner satisfactory to all, after the members shall have given free and full expression to their views.

The eighth congress had to decide whether four or but three official languages should be recognized, and the action finally taken favored the recognition of four—English, French, German and Italian. At the ninth congress many interesting matters will have to be discussed and determined; one of the most important contemplates the securing of an agreement among scientists to accept a standard determination of atomic weights by successive congresses, the weights recognized as authoritative by any one congress to be regarded as such until changed by a succeeding congress. By this means a general rule would be established which would govern the use of atomic weights both industrially and scientifically. The eighth international congress strongly advocated and recommended the adoption of standard governmental examination of ores, metals and fuels. This is highly important for the avoidance, or at least for the decision, of disputes as to the relative richness of the various deposits, and also for the proper and consistent utilization of national resources in such materials.

For the ninth congress will remain the question as to the proper placing of the international delegates. Then the proper assignment of the papers to be read is to be considered, so as to determine and define the priority of one nation over another in regard to recent scientific or industrial discoveries in any one of the hundred or more special fields of experiment and research so ably exploited by the industrial giants who make up a congress such as the eighth International Congress of Applied Chemistry, which has just closed with absolute harmony. This was due in great measure to the splendid leadership of the retired president, Dr. William H. Nichols, who was the cornerstone as well as the central figure of this congress, and who with remarkable tact and ability steered the ship of this great congress safely into the port of the ninth international congress.[1]

The following is a list of all the International Congresses of Applied Chemistry:

No. of Congress Date Place
First 1894 Brussels
Second 1896 Paris
Third 1898 Vienna
Fourth 1900 Paris
Fifth 1903 Berlin
Sixth 1906 Rome
Seventh 1909 London
Eighth 1912 New York City
Ninth 1915 St. Petersburg

  1. For a further discussion of the chemical and other international congresses, see "International Congresses," by Dr. Charles Baskerville, Science, N. S., Vol. XXXII, No. 828, pp. 652-659, November 11, 1910.