Georg Wittig

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Georg Wittig
Georg Wittig.jpg
Born(1897-06-16)16 June 1897
Died26 August 1987(1987-08-26) (aged 90)
Alma mater University of Marburg
Known for Wittig reaction
1,2-Wittig rearrangement
2,3-Wittig rearrangement
Potassium tetraphenylborate
Awards Otto Hahn Prize for Chemistry and Physics (1967)
Paul Karrer Gold Medal (1972)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1979)
Scientific career
Fields Chemistry
Institutions University of Marburg
TU Braunschweig
University of Freiburg
University of Tübingen
University of Heidelberg
Doctoral advisor Karl von Auwers
Doctoral students Werner Tochtermann, Ulrich Schöllkopf

Georg Wittig (16 June 1897 26 August 1987) was a German chemist who reported a method for synthesis of alkenes from aldehydes and ketones using compounds called phosphonium ylides in the Wittig reaction. He shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Herbert C. Brown in 1979.

Chemist scientist trained in the study of chemistry

A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms. Chemists carefully measure substance proportions, reaction rates, and other chemical properties. The word 'chemist' is also used to address Pharmacists in Commonwealth English.

Alkene unsaturated chemical compound containing one carbon-to-carbon double bond

In organic chemistry, an alkene is an unsaturated hydrocarbon that contains at least one carbon–carbon double bond. The words alkene and olefin are often used interchangeably (see nomenclature section below). Acyclic alkenes, with only one double bond and no other functional groups, known as mono-enes, form a homologous series of hydrocarbons with the general formula CnH2n. Alkenes have two hydrogen atoms fewer than the corresponding alkane (with the same number of carbon atoms). The simplest alkene, ethylene (C2H4), with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) name ethene, is the organic compound produced on the largest scale industrially. Aromatic compounds are often drawn as cyclic alkenes, but their structure and properties are different and they are not considered to be alkenes.

Aldehyde organic compound containing a functional group with the structure −CHO, consisting of a carbonyl center (a carbon double-bonded to oxygen) with the carbon atom also bonded to hydrogen and to an R group, which is any generic alkyl or side chain

An aldehyde is an organic compound containing a functional group with the structure −CHO, consisting of a carbonyl center with the carbon atom also bonded to hydrogen and to an R group, which is any generic alkyl or side chain. The group—without R—is the aldehyde group, also known as the formyl group. Aldehydes are common in organic chemistry, and many fragrances are aldehydes.



Wittig was born in Berlin, Germany and shortly after his birth moved with his family to Kassel, where his father was professor at the applied arts high school. He attended school in Kassel and started studying chemistry at the University of Tübingen 1916. He was drafted and became a lieutenant in the cavalry of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel). After being an English prisoner of war from 1918 till 1919, Wittig found it hard to restart his chemistry studies owing to overcrowding at the universities. By a direct plea to Karl von Auwers, who was professor for organic chemistry at the University of Marburg at the time, he was able to resume university study and after 3 years was awarded the Ph.D. in organic chemistry.

Kassel Place in Hesse, Germany

Kassel is a city located on the Fulda River in northern Hesse, Germany. It is the administrative seat of the Regierungsbezirk Kassel and the district of the same name and had 200,507 inhabitants in December 2015. The former capital of the state of Hesse-Kassel has many palaces and parks, including the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kassel is also known for the documenta exhibitions of contemporary art. Kassel has a public university with 25,000 students (2018) and a multicultural population.

University of Tübingen public research university located in the city of Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

The University of Tübingen, officially the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, is a public research university located in the city of Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Kassel (region) Regierungsbezirk in Hesse, Germany

Kassel is one of the three Regierungsbezirke of Hesse, Germany, located in the north of the state. It was created in 1866 when Prussia annexed the area to form the new province Hesse-Nassau. Altogether it consists of 138 municipalities.

Karl von Auwers was able to convince him to start an academic career, leading to his habilitation in 1926. He became a close friend of Karl Ziegler, who was also doing his habilitation with Auwers during that time. The successor of Karl von Auwers, Hans Meerwein, accepted Wittig as lecturer, partly because he was impressed by the new 400-page book on stereochemistry that Wittig had written. In 1931 Wittig married Waltraud Ernst, a colleague from the Auwers working group. The invitation of Karl Fries brought him as professor to the TU Braunschweig in 1932. The time in Braunschweig became more and more problematic as the Nazis tried to get rid of Karl Fries and Wittig showed solidarity with him. After the forced retirement of Fries, in 1937 Hermann Staudinger offered Wittig a position at the University of Freiburg, partly because he knew Wittig from his book on stereochemistry in which he supported Staudinger's highly criticized theory of macromolecules. The foundations of carbanion chemistry were laid during Wittig's time in Freiburg.

Karl Ziegler German chemist

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Karl Friedrich von Auwers was a German chemist and the academic adviser of Karl Ziegler and Georg Wittig at the University of Marburg.

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In 1944 he succeeded the head of the organic chemistry department Wilhelm Schlenk at the University of Tübingen. Most of his scientific work, including the development of the Wittig reaction, was performed during this time in Tübingen. The 1956 appointment of the nearly sixty-year-old Wittig as head of the organic chemistry department at the University of Heidelberg as successor of Karl Freudenberg was exceptional even at that time. The newly built department and the close connection to the BASF convinced Wittig to take this opportunity. He worked at the University of Heidelberg even after his retirement in 1967 and published papers until 1980. Most of his awards were presented during this time at Heidelberg, such as the honorary doctorate of the Sorbonne in 1956 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1979.

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The Wittig reaction or Wittig olefination is a chemical reaction of an aldehyde or ketone with a triphenyl phosphonium ylide to give an alkene and triphenylphosphine oxide.

Karl Johann Freudenberg was a German chemist who did early seminal work on the absolute configurations to carbohydrates, terpenes, and steroids, and on the structure of cellulose and other polysaccharides, and on the nature, structure, and biosynthesis of lignin. The Research Institute for the Chemistry of Wood and Polysaccharides at the University of Heidelberg was created for him in the mid to late 1930s, and he led this until 1969.


Wittig's contributions also include the preparation of phenyllithium and the discovery of the 1,2-Wittig rearrangement and the 2,3-Wittig rearrangement.

Phenyllithium chemical compound

Phenyllithium or lithobenzene is an organometallic agent with the empirical formula C6H5Li. It is most commonly used as a metalating agent in organic syntheses and a substitute for Grignard reagents for introducing phenyl groups in organic syntheses. Crystalline phenyllithium is colorless; however, solutions of phenyllithium are various shades of brown or red depending on the solvent used and the impurities present in the solute.

A 1,2-Wittig rearrangement is a categorization of chemical reactions in organic chemistry, and consists of a 1,2-rearrangement of an ether with an alkyllithium compound. The reaction is named for Nobel Prize winning chemist Georg Wittig.

The [2,3]-Wittig rearrangement is the transformation of an allylic ether into a homoallylic alcohol via a concerted, pericyclic process. Because the reaction is concerted, it exhibits a high degree of stereocontrol, and can be employed early in a synthetic route to establish stereochemistry. The Wittig rearrangement requires strongly basic conditions, however, as a carbanion intermediate is essential. [1,2]-Wittig rearrangement is a competitive process.

Wittig was well known in the chemistry community for being a consummate experimenter and observer of chemical transformations, while caring very little for the theoretical and mechanistic underpinnings of the work he produced.

Georg also has his name on a literature work titled on a compound labelled Colopidalol. [1]

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  1. Wittig, Georg; Mangold, Ruth; Felletschin, Günter (1948). "Über die Stevens'sche und Sommelet'sche Umlagerung als Ylid-Reaktionen". Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie. 560 (1): 116–127. doi:10.1002/jlac.19485600105. ISSN   0075-4617.