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Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (1852-1911)

Jacobus Henricus van 't HoffIn September 1873 Henry van 't Hoff enrolled at Utrecht University. In December of that same year, he graduated and one year later took his PhD. Just before his dissertation Van 't Hoff published a paper of only twelve pages which would make him famous: 'A proposal for extending the structure formulas currently used in spatial chemistry'. The paper laid the foundation for spatial chemistry; stereochemistry and discovered the asymmetrical carbon atom. The discovery was based on the power of imagination; the experimental proof came from others. Van 't Hoff was not appointed as professor although the university realised his he was a genius and had a vacancy. Van 't Hoff had placed the logo's of his favourite bar and student association on his dissertation. The faculty therefor feared Van 't Hoff would be partying instead of working. A secondary school would not hire him because he seemed absentminded, sloppily dressed and 'totally absorbed in his discovery'.

Van 't Hoff therefor worked as an unsalaried university lecturer until he got a paid position at the Veterinary School which would become part of Utrecht University in 1927. In 1878 he became a professor in Amsterdam which position he left 18 years later for a chair in Berlin.

In 1884 he published his main work 'Etudes de dynamique chimique'. This work - based on research this time - deals with movement and balance in chemical reactions and again broke new ground. His applications of simple principles from mechanics and thermodynamics in chemistry earned him the first Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1901.

A laboratory at Utrecht University has been named after Van 't Hoff.