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Michel Eugène Chevreul

Michel Eugène Chevreul (August 31, 1786 - April 9, 1889), French chemist, was born at Angers, where his father was a physician.

At about the age of seventeen he went to Paris and entered LN Vauquelin's chemical laboratory, afterwards becoming his assistant at the natural history museum in the Jardin des Plantes. In 1813 he was appointed professor of chemistry at the Lycée Charlemagne, and subsequently undertook the directorship of the Gobelins tapestry works, where he carried out his researches on colour contrasts (De Ia loi du contraste simultané des couleurs, 1839). In 1826 he became a member of the Academy of Sciences, and in the same year was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society of London, whose Copley Medal he was awarded in 1857.

He succeeded his master, Vauquelin, as professor of organic chemistry at the natural history museum in 1830, and thirty-three years later assumed its directorship also; this he relinquished in 1879, though he still retained his professorship. In 1886 the completion of his hundredth year was celebrated with public rejoicings; and after his death, which occurred in Paris on the 9th of April 1889, he was honoured with a public funeral. In 1901 a statue was erected to his memory in the museum with which he was connected for so many years.

His scientific work covered a wide range, but his name is best known for the classical researches he carried out on animal fats, published in 1823 (Recherches sur les corps gras d'origine animale). These enabled him to elucidate the true nature of soap; he was also able to discover the composition of stearin and olein, and to isolate stearic and oleic acids, the names of which were invented by him. This work led to important improvements in the processes of candle-manufacture. Chevreul was a determined enemy of charlatanism in every form, and a complete sceptic as to the "scientific" psychical research or spiritualism which had begun in his time (see his De La baguette divinatoire, et des tables tournantes, 1864).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.