Famous Dreams

Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz


Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz

Welcome to our Famous Dreams: Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz page.

Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz is a remarkable figure in the history of chemistry, specifically organic chemistry. Twice Kekulé had dreams that led to major discoveries!

Kekulé discovered the tetravalent nature of carbon, the formation of chemical/ organic "Structure Theory", but he did not make this breakthrough by experimentation alone. He had a dream! As he described in a speech given at the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft (German Chemical Society): Kekule Dreams and Discovery - Benzene Dream

"I fell into a reverie, and lo, the atoms were gamboling before my eyes! Whenever, hitherto, these diminutive beings had appeared to me, they had always been in motion; but up to that time, I had never been able to discern the nature of their motion. Now, however, I saw how, frequently, two smaller atoms united to form a pair; how a larger one embraced the two smaller ones; how still larger ones kept hold of three or even four of the smaller; whilst the whole kept whirling in a giddy dance. I saw how the larger ones formed a chain, dragging the smaller ones after them, but only at the ends of the chain. . . The cry of the conductor: “Clapham Road,” awakened me from my dreaming; but I spent part of the night in putting on paper at least sketches of these dream forms. This was the origin of the Structural Theory."

Later, he had a dream that helped him discover that the Benzene molecule, unlike other known organic compounds, had a circular structure rather than a linear one... solving a problem that had been confounding chemists:

"...I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis."

The snake seizing it's own tail gave Kekulé the circular structure idea he needed to solve the Benzene problem! Said an excited Kekulé to his colleagues, “Let us learn to dream!”

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