ROBERT JOHN KANE: Inorganic chemistry and plant chemicals

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Robert John Kane (1801-1891) was an English physician and chemist to whom we owe a new and very efficient process for the synthesis of iodine chlorides, the study of the nature and behavior of ammonia and its derivatives, and the existence of compounds containing nitrogen in the form of NH2 (amidogene), which were not amides and resulted from the action of ammonia and the base of an oxide. The action of ammonia upon mercuric oxide resulted in an ammoniuret, a highly fulminating compound. Kane isolated, identified, and
determined the properties of a series of plant chemicals, among them, thebaine, dumasine (cyclopentanone), the active component of a number of essential oils (rosemary, marjoram, peppermint, pennyroyal, spearmint, lavender, and sassafras), the coloring matter of Persian berries, and several lichens of the Rocella and Lecanora species. From Rocella tinctoria he isolated the new compounds erythrin, roccellin, erythrin, and telerythrin, and from archil alpha and beta orcein, erythroleic acid, azoerythrin, azolitmin, etc. Kane separated the
components of litmus and proposed an explanation of the discoloration of the bodies present in archil and litmus: the reddening of litmus paper was produced by HCl, etc., generating the pertinent alkali chloride and setting free the red coloring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-161
JournalRevista CENIC Ciencias Biológicas
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019


  • ammonia salts
  • archil
  • iodine chlorides
  • litmus
  • mercury


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