JABIR IBN HAIYAN (Geber) (Died 803 C.E.)
Jabir Ibn Haiyan, known by the name of the alchemist
Geber of the Middle Ages, is generally known as the
Father of Chemistry. His full name was Abu Musa Jabir
Ibn Hayyan. He had established himself as one of the
leading scientist while he practiced medicine and alchemy
in Kufa (in present day Iraq) around 776 C.E. In his
early days, he was under the patronage of the Barmaki
Vizier during the Abbasid Caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid.
Jabir died in Kufa in 803 C.E.
Jabir's (Geber's) major contribution was in the field
of Chemistry. He is famous for writing more than one
hundred monumental treatises, of which twenty-two deal
with chemistry and alchemy. He introduced experimental
investigation into alchemy (derived from Arabic word
al-Kimiya), creating the momentum for the modern Chemistry.
Jabir emphasized experimentation and development of
methods to achieve reproducibility in his work. He devoted
his effort to the development of basic chemical methods
and the study of various mechanisms of chemical reactions
and thus helped evolve chemistry as a science from the
legends of alchemy. Jabir emphasized that definite quantities
of various substances are involved in a chemical reaction.
Therefore, it can be said that he paved the way for
the law of constant proportions.
His contribution of fundamental importance to chemistry
includes perfection of scientific techniques such as
crystallization, distillation, calcination, sublimation
and evaporation and development of several instruments
for conducting these experiments. Jabir's major practical
achievement was the discovery of minerals and acids,
which he prepared for the first time in his alembic
(Anbique). His invention of the alembic made the distillation
process easy and systematic. Among his various breakthroughs
is the preparation of nitric, hydrochloric, citric and
tartaric acids. Jabir's emphasis on systematic experimentation
is outstanding. It is on the basis of such works that
he is regarded as the father of modern Chemistry. In
the words of Max Mayerhaff, the development of chemistry
in Europe can be traced directly to Jabir Ibn Haiyan.
Jabir was a pioneer in the development of a number
of applied chemical processes. His contributions include
the development of steel, preparation of various metals,
prevention of rusting, lettering in gold, use of manganese
dioxide in glass-making, dyeing of cloth and tanning
of leather, varnishing of waterproof cloth, identification
of paints and greases. In addition, he developed aqua
regia to dissolve gold.
Jabir's experimental ideas paved the way for now commonly
known classification of substances as metals, nonmetals
and volatile substances. He discussed three distinct
types of substances based on their properties: a) spirits,
i.e., those which vaporize on heating, like camphor,
arsenic and ammonium chloride, b) metals, e.g., gold,
silver, lead, copper, iron, and c) compounds that can
be converted into powders.
Jabir treatises on chemistry, including his Kitab al-Kimya,
and Kitab al-Sab'een were translated into Latin in the
Middle Ages. The translation of Kitab al-Kimya was published
by the Englishman Robert of Chester in 1144 C.E. under
the title "The Book of the Composition of Alchemy."
The second book was translated by the famous Gerard
of Cremona (D. 1187). Berthelot translated some his
books known by the titles "Book of Kingdom",
"Book of the Balances," "Book of Eastern
Mercury," and it is obvious that he did not use
correct titles for Jabir's books. Englishman Richard
Russel translated and published (1678) Jabir's another
work under the title "Sum of Perfection."
He described him as Geber, the most famous Arabian prince
and philosopher. These translations were popular in
Europe for several centuries and have influenced the
evolution of modern chemistry. Several technical terms
introduced by Jabir, such as alkali, are found in various
European languages and have become part of scientific
vocabulary. Only a few of his books have been edited
and published, while many others preserved in Arabic
have yet to be translated. He also contributed to other
sciences such as medicine and astronomy.