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Moses Gomberg (1866–1947)

Moses Gomberg was born in Elizabetgrad, Russian Empire. In 1884, the family emigrated to Chicago where he worked at the Stock Yards while attending Lake High School. In 1886, Moses entered the University of Michigan, where he obtained his B.Sc in 1890 and his doctorate in 1894 under the supervision of A. B. Prescott. His thesis, titled ‘Trimethylxanthin and some of its Derivatives,” dealt with the derivatization of caffeine and was an extension of Prescott’s work. Appointed an instructor in 1893, Gomberg worked at the University of Michigan for the duration of his professional academic career, becoming chair of the Deparment of Chemistry from 1927 until his retirement in 1936. Dr. Gomberg served as President of the American Chemical Society in 1931. He never married, living with his sister Sophia in Ann Arbor for his adult life.

In 1896–1897 he took a year’s leave to work as a postdoctoral researcher with Baeyer and Thiele in Munich and with Victor Meyer in Heidelberg, where he successfully prepared the long-elusive tetraphenylmethane.

During attempts to prepare the even more sterically congested hydrocarbon hexaphenylethane he correctly identified the triphenylmethyl radical, the first persistent radical to be discovered, and is thus known as the founder of radical chemistry. The work was later followed up by Wilhelm Schlenk. Gomberg was a mentor to Werner Emmanuel Bachmann who also carried on his work and together they discovered the Gomberg-Bachmann aryl-aryl coupling reaction.

Upon his death in 1947 Moses Gomberg bequeathed his estate to the Chemistry Department of the University of Michigan for the creation of student fellowships. In 2000, the centennial of his paper “Triphenylmethyl, a Case of Trivalent Carbon”, a symposium was held in his memory and a plaque was installed in the Chemistry Building at the University of Michigan designating a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

In 1993, the Chemistry Department of the University of Michigan instituted the Moses Gomberg Lecture series to provide assistant professors an opportunity to invite distinguished scientists to the Chemistry department.