Plaque unveiled to celebrate seminal theory of chemical valence by Sir Edward Frankland FRS

The School of Chemistry has unveiled a plaque awarded by the History Division of the American Chemical Society to celebrate seminal work by Sir Edward Frankland FRS that established the theory of chemical valence in 1852.

In 1852, based at what would become The University of Manchester, Sir Edward published a paper (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 1852, 142, 417-444) where he described his theory of chemical valence, which is a measure of the combining power of a given element with another when forming chemical compounds. The significance of the theory, which has become a cornerstone of our understanding of chemistry, is that it has broad applicability, and it successfully accounts for the molecular structure of a wide range of inorganic and organic compounds. With this understanding in place, the scene was then set for the development of subsequent chemical bonding theories such as Lewis structure, valence bond theory, molecular orbitals, valence shell electron pair repulsion theory, and quantum chemistry.

Sir Edward is also widely credited as one of the originators of organometallic chemistry, that is compounds with metal-carbon bonds, following his successful synthesis of fundamental organometallic molecules such as diethylzinc. To commemorate the occasion of the award, a symposium was held with research talks spanning the full range of contemporary organometallic chemistry given by Prof. Bill Evans (University of California, Irvine), Prof. Philip Power FRS (University of California, Davis), and Prof. Igor Larrosa and Drs Mike Ingleson and Vanesa Marcos from The University of Manchester. The programme of lectures was rounded off by a lecture from Dr Robert Anderson from the Chemical Heritage Foundation that gave a flavour of the life of Sir Edward Frankland himself.

The event was attended by several of Sir Edward’s descendants, and one of the Frankland family, Miss Miriam O’Hanlon who is a great great great grandchild of Sir Edward, concluded the symposium by unveiling the plaque. The plaque will be permanently displayed in the foyer of The School of Chemistry adjacent to another plaque, bequeathed by the American Chemical Society, that recognises seminal work on radioactivity accomplished by the Nobel Laureate Sir Earnest Rutherford at Victoria University of Manchester, the forerunner of The University of Manchester.

Professor Steve Liddle, Head of Inorganic Chemistry and organiser of the event, said: “We are very grateful to the American Chemical Society for this award, and the quality and breath of the science that was presented at this symposium is a testament to the profound legacy that Sir Edward created with his theory of chemical valence. The University of Manchester has a proud heritage where this area is concerned, and in addition to the work of Frankland and Rutherford it has close ties to atomic structure and bonding luminaries John Dalton, Joseph Thompson, and James Chadwick.”

Professor Richard Winpenny, Head of the School of Chemistry added: “Between them, Frankland, Rutherford, Dalton, Thompson, and Chadwick discovered the proton, neutron, electron, atomic structure theory, and the concept of chemical valence, so the atom is very much a Mancunian!”



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