O-Chem in Real Life: The Chemist Composer

The aldol reaction isn't named after a person called Aldol, it is called this because aldehydes are generally more reactive in this reaction than ketones, and the addition (not dehydration) products will have both ALDehyde and also an alcohOL functional groups. The reaction is usually attributed to two chemists, Adolphe Wurtz and Alexander Borodin. Wurtz, despite his Germanic name, was an influential French chemist who made several important contributions, including a reaction that IS named after him, the Wurtz reaction, which is another carbon-carbon bond forming reaction. Alexander Borodin was a Russian chemist, but of course is much better known as a classical composer, In the Steppes of Central Asia may be his most famous piece.

So it is really kind of interesting that this guy could be both a musician and a chemist. If you look into what had been written about Borodin as a chemist, some people claim that he wasn't a particularly exceptional one, but I don't care, I am impressed that thus guy could make so many different kinds of contributions and do fairly sophisticated organic chemistry in the 19th century! You have to remember that at this time some people were still arguing about atomic theory and the structures of molecules and how chemical bonds were formed was just not understood.

I actually came across Borodin as a chemist before I knew that he was associated with the Aldol reaction. In one of my former chemistry lives I worked on chemical reactions that related to photography, the original kind, not the digital kind that everybody uses nowadays. We were looking at the chemistry of carboxylates, the conjugate base anions of carboxylic acids. In photographic film, there are lots of silver cations and bromide (and chloride) anions, and carboxylates can undergo a reaction where carbon dioxide is released (called a decarboxyation) in the presence of Ag+ and Br2, see below.

The reaction is known as the Hunsdiecker reaction, but it is also known (mainly in Russia!) as the Borodin reaction, but this photographic chemistry will be discussed in more detail in another "Real Life" page.