Simpson, Maxwell

Maxwell Simpson (1815 - 1902)

Maxwell Simpson was born in Beech Hill, Lisnadill, Co. Armagh; he studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin. He attended lectures in chemistry at University College London and worked in Thomas Graham's laboratory. In 1845 he returned to Dublin and married the sister of the Young Irelander 'honest John Martin'.

On finishing his medical degree he became a lecturer in the 'Original' School of Medicine in Peter Street. He studied chemistry in Marburg, Heidelberg, and in Paris with Carl Adolphe Würtz. Working in his own home laboratory in Wellington Road, he was the first chemist to synthesise the organic compound succinic acid from inorganic starting materials: he also was the first to establish that the acidity of organic acids arises from the presence of the carboxylic group - COOH.

His working life spanned a major portion of the period when modern chemistry was being developed in Europe and America. His own contributions were recognised by his election to the Royal Society as a fellow in 1862, his appointment as vice-president of the Chemical Society, and the award of honorary degrees from the University of Dublin and the Queen's University of Ireland. In 1872 he was appointed professor of chemistry in Queen's College Cork.

Further reading: Deasmumhan Ó Raghallaigh (ed.) Three Centuries of Irish Chemists pp. 21, 22 Cork University Press, Cork 1941.

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