News | Published:

Dr. Thomas Midgley

Nature volume 139, pages 317318 (20 February 1937) | Download Citation



THE Perkin Medal of the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry has this year been awarded to Dr. Thomas Midgley, who has achieved world-wide fame for his discovery of tetra-ethyl lead as an anti-knock agent. This, it should be emphasized, was no chance discovery but the result of systematic trial following a study of the periodic system, the final finding that the lead derivative would solve the problem being predicted beforehand. To-day ‘ethyl’ is added to seventy per cent of all the petrol used in America, and the increased horse-power thereby generated amounts to a very large figure. In a characteristic address given at the time of receiving the medal, Dr. Midgley told the story of his more recent discovery of a compound of carbon, chlorine and fluorine, CHC12F, to be used as a refrigerant, which is non-toxic and non-inflammable. Apparently he was told of the need for a new refrigerant over the telephone, and with the aid of two colleagues, the use of a chemical library and some deductions from the periodic table, arrived at the probability that the above fluorine compound might prove non-toxic and suitable. Small quantities were prepared from various samples of available starting material. The first batch was pure and proved non-toxic; in the others the raw material proved to be contaminated and gave toxic products, which, however, could be purified when this fact was realized, and became non-toxic. Three days' work sufficed to solve the problem and to give the refrigerating industry a new material which is expected will prove of outstanding importance in its development.

About this article

Publication history





    By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

    Newsletter Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing