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Bonding to Hydrogen

The simplest molecule, made for connection

Roald Hoffmann

Döbereiner’s Feuerzeug

Yet hydrogen was known to react all along with some metal surfaces. In another column (American Scientist 86:326–329 [1998]) I recounted how Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner discovered in 1823 that hydrogen burned on a platinum surface. This is the first well-characterized catalytic reaction. Döbereiner did not know that there were molecules in his hydrogen gas (generated the same way I did as a boy, from Zn plus an acid, sulfuric acid in his case). And, of course, he did not know in atomistic detail how those H2 molecules fell apart on his Pt surface, and how they combined with oxygen from the atmosphere. Döbereiner made a Feuerzeug, a source of fire based on hydrogen, that became a household firelighting tool for half a century.





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