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June 30, 1928


JAMA. 1928;90(26):2105-2106. doi:10.1001/jama.1928.02690530033015

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The present year marks the hundredth anniversary of Friedrich Wöhler's publication of the discovery of the synthesis of urea. This discovery, the outcome of a series of investigations of cyanic acid and its compounds, represents the first production in the laboratory of an organic substance without the intervention of living matter. In his article of four small pages, detailing what has been called one of the most important contributions to chemistry, Wöhler said: "I obtained the unexpected result that, when cyanic acid and ammonia are combined, urea is produced. This fact is all the more remarkable because it offers an example of the artificial formation of an organic compound, moreover of an animal substance, by means of inorganic materials." The synthesis of urea was the first experimental evidence to disprove the doctrine of "vital force" as the cause of chemical transformations within living organisms—chemical reactions which, from points conceded, could

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