Rediscovery of the Elements: Fluorine Page: 2 of 5
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Figure 3. 1-aculte de Pharnacie. In tilt courtyard
(lower right, not shown) is a statue of Vauquelin,
the discoverer of chromium and beryllium (see ref
4 for a photograph).
expert of the life of Henri Moissan-le
Professeur 6m6rite Jacques Rivet. For an after-
noon we were captivated as Professeur Rivet,
elegant and poetic, gave a three-hour presenta
tion on the life and accomplishments of Henri
Moissan, moving from showcase to showcase
in the expansive hall (Figure 4).
Moissan (Professeur Rivat related in his nar-
rative) was born in Paris but moved to Meaux
(40 km east) when he was 12. Later he was
apprenticed at the Bandry apothecary in Paris
(at the corner of rue Pernelle and rue Saint
Denis, 1.93 kilometers north, across the Seine).
After studying with Edmond Fremy
(1814-1894; discovered "Fremy's salt,"
NO(SO3Na)2, in 1845) at the Museum
d'Histoire Naturelle, in 1879 he accepted a
position at the Ecole Sup6rieure de Pharmacie.
In 1882, when the school moved to its present
position, Moissan married Lbonie Lugan, the
daughter of a pharmacist in Meaux. This mar-
riage was most fortunate, because her devotion
and support allowed Moissan to pursue a most
productive career, while his father-in-law gave
financial support for his scientific endeavors.
Moissan originated his fluorine studies at a
house on rue de Lancry (3.5 km northeast), but
H.-J. Debray allowed him to use a more power-
ful battery in temporary barracks on the rue
Michelet for his electrolysis studies (Note 3).
This battery was designed after the one Robert
Wilhelm Bunsen (1811-1899) had prepared,
and with which he had recently prepared ele-
mental rubidium (1863) and cesium (1882). The
Debray laboratory, immediately around the cor-
ner from the Facult6 de Pharmacie (Figure 2),
was ramshackle, but ideal for Moissan's corro-
sive chemicals. Moissan first prepared elemen-
Figure 4. Le Professeur cnurite Jacques Rivet holding a special metal tube constructed by Henri Moissan
used to study elemental, gaseous fluorine. Capped with transparent, inert fluorite caps, the tube allowed
Moissan to observe for the first time that the color of elemental fluorine is yellow.
Figure 5. Exhibited in one of display cabinets in
the Musie Moissan, the electrolysis apparatus
used to produce elemental fluorine stands before
Moissan's Nobel Prize certificate.
tal fluorine in 1886; the discovery was
announced by Debray at the French Academy
of Science meeting on 26 June 1886. The key to
Moissan's successful apparatus (Figure 5), as
Professeur Rivat explained to us, was the com-
bination of "French ingenuity" and four key
(1) Finding a chemical system that was
electrically conductive, that did not
contain water, which would produce
oxygen and not fluorine (KF/HF solution).
(2) Constructing an apparatus that was inert
to elemental fluorine (fluorite, CaF).
Figure 6. Moissan's electric arc fiirnace required
huge amounts of energy and was run at the
Edison Works in Paris.
(3) Utilizing inert electrodes at a cold tempera-
ture so the electrodes would not be
attacked (Pt-Ir electrodes, in an apparatus
contained with a condensed methyl
chloride bath, -23 C ).
(4) Using a chemical test which would prove
the existence of elemental fluorine (sponta-
neous combustion with elemental silicon).
The shed on rue Michelet no longer existed,
Rivat explained; it had been torn down because
of months of savage abuse with corrosive
chemicals. Even the windows were heavily
fogged from reaction with hydrogen fluoride.
Moissan diversified his research to develop
the "Moissan furnace" (Figure 6), an electric arc
capable of temperatures as high as 3500" C.This
furnace required prodigious quantities of elec-
tric power; Moissan first used the generating
power at Gare de l'Est (railway station), but
then settled on the Edison Works on Avenue
Trudaine (4.3 km north of the Faculte de
~' ar x 1
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Marshall, James L., 1940- & Marshall, Virginia R. Rediscovery of the Elements: Fluorine, article, Autumn 2006; Indianapolis, Indiana. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc111213/m1/2/: accessed January 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Arts and Sciences.