Paul Walden

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Paul Walden was a scientist who was Latvian and German. His contributions to stereochemistry and chemistry history resulted in numerous advancements in the discipline. Perhaps most significantly, he is renowned for inventing the “Walden inversion,” a stereochemical process. He is also recognized for successfully synthesizing an ionic liquid at room temperature using ethylammonium nitrate. Walden worked as a chemistry professor at a number of European colleges, where he was praised for both his lecturing skills and his laboratory accomplishments. Some of Walden’s efforts were disrupted during the two World Wars when he was living and working in early twentieth-century Europe. While he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1913 and 1914, the First World War cut short his efforts and reputation during that time. Despite this, he lived a long life, teaching and working right up until his death. His work is still remembered by the scientific community, especially in Latvia, where he was born and spent many of his most productive years. He is sometimes considered to as the inventor of physical organic chemistry because of the significance of the Walden Inversion.

Childhood and Adolescence

He was born on July 26, 1863, to a big peasant family in Rozula, Latvia, in what is now the Paraguja municipality.
Both of his parents died when he was four years old, leaving him in the care of his twelve elder siblings. Walden was supported throughout his upbringing by two elder brothers who worked in Riga and paid for him to attend boarding school and subsequently university. Walden finished his education in 1882, after attending a normal high school in Cesis and a technical high school in Riga.

Career of Paul Walden

Walden began his academic career in December 1882, when he enrolled in Riga Technical University and began studying chemistry. He published his first scientific paper in 1886, which focused on the interactions of nitric and nitrous acid with a variety of chemicals. He studied the colors of these reactions and determined the color method’s sensitivity limits for detecting nitric acid.

He was elected a member of the Russian Physico-Chemical Society in April 1887, while still at university. Walden began working with Wilhelm Ostwald, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist and Walden’s mentor, in the same year. In that same year, the two collaborated on a paper that looked at how molecular weight affected the electrical conductivity of salt aqueous solutions.

Walden graduated from Riga Technical University with a degree in chemical engineering in 1888, having already published papers on his own and in collaboration with Ostwald. He stayed at the same university, now working as a research assistant for Professor C. Bischof.

He prepared the “Handbook of Stereochemistry” between 1888 and 1889, a reference that included the results of dozens of chemical syntheses and characterizations.

He visited Ostwald at the University of Leipzig in 1890 and 1891, where he defended his master’s thesis on the affinity values of specific organic acids. Walden declined an invitation to continue as a lecturer at Leipzig and instead returned to Riga.

He was hired as an assistant professor of physical chemistry at Riga Technical University in 1892, and he completed his doctorate within a year of starting. He became a full professor of analytical and physical chemistry at Riga Technical University in 1894.

Walden developed the Walden Inversion in 1895, just one year into his professorship, demonstrating that certain exchange processes can produce distinct stereoisomers from the same chemical. Throughout his life, Walden’s most known achievement would be this breakthrough.

The Riga Technical University underwent extensive reforms in 1896, and Walden was in charge of rebuilding the Chemistry Department in partnership with Ostwald, who offered proposals from the University of Leipzig.
Mikhail Lomonosov persuaded Walden to join the Chemical Laboratories of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences as a prominent member in 1911, a position he held until 1919.

In response to political upheaval in Russia and Latvia, Walden shifted his attention from research to teaching and administration, first in Latvia and subsequently in Germany, where he worked as an inorganic chemistry professor at the University of Rostock. He held the office until 1934.

He was invited back to Riga for a series of talks in 1924, and he turned down teaching jobs in both Riga and St. Petersburg. The British bombing of Rostock in 1942 destroyed Walden’s library on the history of chemistry, which contained over 10,000 books.

Major Projects of Paul Walden

He is most known for his ground-breaking invention, the Walden Inversion, which demonstrated that various stereoisomers can be obtained from the same chemical via certain exchange processes.
He created ethyl ammonium nitrate, the first room-temperature ionic liquid.

Achievements & Awards

Walden was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in both 1913 and 1914.

Personal History and Legacy

Walden and his wife were evicted from their home after the British bombing of Rostock. They went throughout Germany until Walden was hired as a lecturer in Gammertingen, where he stayed until he was 80 years old.
He was unable to collect his pension as a result of Germany’s postwar separation into four parts; as a result, he was compelled to continue lecturing till the end of his life.

Walden died in Gammertingen, West Germany, on January 22, 1957, at the age of 93. Riga Technical University has been awarding the Paul Walden Award for outstanding contributions in chemistry and science history every three years since 1988.

In the legacy of Walden’s contributions to the science, the Latvian Chemical Society has organized an annual Paul Walden Symposium for chemists to participate and exchange ideas since 2006.

Estimated Net Worth

Paul is one of the wealthiest chemists and is on the list of the most popular chemists. Paul Walden’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


Aside from his chemistry achievements, Walden was regarded as a gifted instructor. “The reaction of supportive listeners gave me strength,” he wrote in his autobiography. I’ve never thought of teaching as a chore.”
“I’m a chemist,” Walden is claimed to have answered when asked about his nationality, which has been portrayed as Latvian, Russian, or German.