The French chemist Paul Sabatier (1854-1941) is best known for his work in the field of catalyzed gas phased reactions.
Paul Sabatier was born in Carcassonne on Nov. 5, 1854. After graduating from the École Normale Supérieure in 1874 and teaching a year in the lycée at Nîmes, he became a laboratory assistant at the Colle‧gede France in 1878. Two years later he received his doctoral degree with a thesis on the thermochemistry of sulfur and the metallic sulfides. After serving as maître de conference in physics in the faculty of sciences at Bordeaux for a year, he took charge of the course in physics in the faculty of sciences at Toulouse, the school at which he remained for the rest of his life. He became professor of chemistry in 1884 and went on to become one of the most brilliant representatives of the French chemical school.
After completing his thesis, Sabatier turned his attention to a host of inorganic and physical problems related to the thermochemistry of sulfides, chlorides, and chromates. A detailed study of the rate of transformation of metaphosphoric acid, studies on absorption spectra, and measurement of the partition coefficients of a base between two acids were included in the first 2 decades of his work.
Sabatier's efforts in the field of organic chemistry began about 1897 and led to the enunciation of a theory of catalytic hydrogenation over finely divided metals such as nickel, copper, cobalt, iron, and platinum. With the help of his colleagues he not only carried out a large number of experimental studies on catalytic hydrogenation but also proposed a theory of catalysis that is still useful and sound. He suggested that reactants combine with each other over catalysts as a result of forming unstable complexes or compounds with the catalyst surface. For this hypothesis and for his numerous experimental catalytic studies, science and industry will be eternally grateful.
The chemist received many honors. He was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences, commander of the Légion d'Honneur, and an honorary member of the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Madrid, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. He was awarded many prizes and medals as well, and "for his method of hydrogenating organic compounds in the presence of finely divided nickel" he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1912.
Sabatier is described as being reserved and detached. He was fond of art and gardening. From his marriage to Mademoiselle Herail there were four daughters, one of whom married the Italian chemist Emile Pomilio. Sabatier died on Aug. 14, 1941.
Further Reading on Paul Sabatier
Biographical information on Sabatier is in Eduard Farber, Nobel Prize Winners in Chemistry, 1901-1950 (1953); Eduard Farber, ed., Great Chemists (1961); and Nobel Foundation, Chemistry: Nobel Lectures, Including Presentation Speeches and Laureates' Biographies (3 vols., 1964-1966).