Paris: Victor Masson, 1852. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION OF AN IMPORTANT PAPER BY PASTEUR ON MOLECULAR ASYMMETRY, one of a series on tartaric and paratartaric acid in which he would establish the molecular basis for the asymmetry of certain crystals and racemization. “Early in his career, his investigation of tartaric acid resulted in the first resolution of what is now called optical isomers. His work led the way to the current understanding of a fundamental principle in the structure of organic compounds” (Wikipedia).
Throughout his career, Pasteur’s guiding principle was that optical activity was generally present in organic products and uniformly absent from inorganic substances. Convinced of an association between molecular and crystalline asymmetry, Pasteur was “entranced by the fact that optically active compounds – such as tartaric acid with its asymmetrical crystals – were produced only by living organisms, not in the laboratory. He theorized that asymmetrical influences such as magnetism or the earth’s rotation might be at the root of the “handedness” of the compounds in living organisms.
In the late 1840s, “Pasteur carried out an impressive series of investigations into the relation between optical activity, crystalline structure, and chemical composition in organic compounds, particularly tartaric and paratartaric acids [this being one of the studies]. This work focused attention on the relationship between optical activity and life and provided much inspiration and several of the most important techniques for an entirely new approach to the study of chemical structure and composition. In essence, Pasteur opened the way to a consideration of the disposition of atoms in space, and his early memoirs constitute founding documents of stereochemistry” (DSB 10).
In 1849, “Louis Pasteur was attempting to resolve a problem concerning the nature of tartaric acid—a chemical found in the sediments of fermenting wine. Scientists were using the rotation of polarized light as a means for studying crystals. When polarized light is passed through a solution of dissolved tartaric acid, the angle of the plane of light is rotated. Pasteur observed that another compound called paratartaric acid, also found in wine sediments, had the same composition as tartaric acid. Most scientists assumed the two compounds were identical. However, Pasteur observed that paratartaric acid did not rotate plane-polarized light. He deduced that although the two compounds had the same chemical composition, they must somehow have different structures.
“Looking at the paratartaric acid under a microscope, Pasteur observed there were two different types of tiny crystals. Though they looked almost identical, the two were actually mirror images of each other. He separated the two types of crystals into two piles and made solutions of each. When polarized light was passed through each, he discovered that both solutions rotated, but in opposite directions. When the two crystals were together in the solution the effect of polarized light was canceled. [Pasteur’s collective work on paratartaric acid] established that just studying the composition is not enough to understand how a chemical behaves. The structure and shape is also important and led to the field of stereochemistry” (A & E Bio Portal). Item #929
CONDITION & DETAILS: Paris: Victor Masson. Three volumes bound together, Volumes 34-36. Ex-libris with no institutional spine markings 8vo. 8.25 x 5.5 inches (206 x 137mm). Volume 34: 512 pages. Volume 35: p. 512 pages. Volume 36: 512 pages. Ten fold-out plates. In-text illustrations and tables throughout. Tightly and very solidly bound in maroon cloth with a gilt-lettered spine; minor scuffing to the edge tips. Bright and clean throughout, so much so that we think it unlikely the volume was opened or used at all. Very slight age toning at the edges of some page; largely bright and clean. Very good.