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A Brief Biography of Pierre Alfred Laurent: A Distinguished Chemist from the Instituto Superior Técnico
Paulo Nuno Martins*
Interuniversity Center for History of Science and Technology, CIUHCT, Campus of Caparica, Caparica, Portugal
Submission: July 25, 2019; Published: August 09, 2019
*Corresponding author: Paulo Nuno Martins, Interuniversity Center for History of Science and Technology, CIUHCT, Campus of Caparica, Building VII, Floor 2,2829-516 Caparica, Portugal
How to cite this article: Paulo Nuno Martins. A Brief Biography of Pierre Alfred Laurent: A Distinguished Chemist from the Instituto Superior Técnico.
Organic & Medicinal Chem IJ. 2019; 8(4): 555745 DOI: 10.19080/OMCIJ.2019.08.555745
Pierre Alfred Laurent was a distinguished French chemist of the second half of the XX century. In this short communication, I will describe the most important topics of his life, especially in the area of chemistry.
Keywords: Scholar and researcher of organic chemistry at Instituto Superior Técnico; Director of the Portuguese Institute of Industrial Research; Pedagogical perspective on the learning of organic chemistry both in university and industry; Organic chemistry laboratory at Instituto Superior Técnico
Pierre Alfred Laurent was born in Saint-Louis (Upper-Rhine) in 1909 in France. It is known that he was an important chemist in the first half of the twentieth century. Thus, in the early 1950s, through an invitation made by the Portuguese Government, Pierre Laurent came to Lisbon in order to teach all subjects about organic chemistry to students of chemical Engineering course at Instituto Superior Técnico (the largest engineering school in Portugal) .
In fact, this distinguished Professor of chemistry replaced Peres de Carvalho who had been removed in 1947 from the academic staff for “political reasons.” In this sense, Professor Pierre Laurent outlined the manuals of the programs of organic chemistry at Instituto Superior Técnico, which was followed by this school of Portuguese Engineering until 1961.
In addition to the positions associated with teaching and investigation, Pierre Laurent also took part on other positions that were important for the development of Portuguese industrial chemistry, such as the director of the National Institute of Industrial Research (group of Chemical and Biological Laboratories). In Portugal, he also participated in several congresses, namely at the XV International Congress of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), together with D. António PereiraForjaz, which took place between 9th and 16th September 1956, in Lisbon. It should be noted that the precise date and place of death of Professor Pierre Laurent is unknown.
In this short communication on Pierre Alfred Laurent, I chose the 10 main scientific sources (based in the “impact factor”) that are available in university libraries and public research institutions in order to give the reader a succinct but rigorous idea on this subject.
In this section, I will refer the most important results of my investigation about the Pierre Laurent´s works on chemistry. In this regard, Pierre Laurent has devoted himself to research and teaching within the field of organic chemistry, particularly in the field of ‘essential oils’ , such as eucalyptus oil that led to the publication of numerous works together with some of his students. An example of this collaboration was the case with his student named by Frausto da Silva (who would later become an eminent Portuguese chemist, and Minister of Education of Portugal). Furthermore, Professor Pierre Laurent sought in his work an intense exchange between the university environmentand industry, as well as a contact with high quality international
and national entities in the area of organic chemistry
In 1954, regarding his pedagogical perspective on the
learning of organic chemistry between university and industry,
Pierre Laurent argued in one of his conferences (attended by the
Representative of Embassy of France) entitled “Some Potential
Aspects of Portuguese Industry” that organic chemistry should
be learned both in academic environment (where the theoretical
teaching of organic chemistry should have a privileged place) and
in industry (where practical knowledge and economic sensitivity
would be acquired by the engineer) .
In fact, Professor Pierre Laurent advocated universityindustry
cooperation, suggesting that industrial managers
should contribute financially to the scientific and technological
development of this area of knowledge, as already occurred
in other European countries, because this procedure could
be beneficial for both entities: engineers could gain practical
experience, while industrial managers could obtain chemicals
products with higher quality .
At the same conference, Pierre Laurent also referred to the
quality of the various raw materials in Portugal, which could
be economically advantageous for the Portuguese chemical
industry, such as stearic acid (which could be obtained from
the fat of various Portuguese raw materials), oleic acid (which
could be obtained from olive oil), glutamic acid (which could be
obtained from carob seed). In 1961, the glutamic acid was the
basis of a research work carried out between Professor Pierre
Laurent and Engineer Carlos Beaumont (from Petrochemical)
and Engineer Rui Castelhano (from Soda Póvoa), where it was
shown that obtaining glutamic acid from carob seed was both
scientific and economically viable for Portugal through the
exportation of this product to the United States .
On the other hand, regarding the practical collaboration with
international entities, I would like to highlight those carried out
with the German chemical industry BASF, through the Research
Laboratory manager, Dr. Walter Reppe, as well as those of an
academic nature, namely with the University of Liège, through
the Laboratory manager, Dr. Pierre Tarte. For example, the
academic work carried out jointly by Professor Pierre Laurent
and Professor Tarte on “the synthesis of macrocyclic acetates:
1,3,6 - trioxane and 1,3 – dioxane”, it was carried out both at the
Instituto Superior Técnico and at the Laboratory of the University
of Liège, which was an example of this dynamism of international
In relation to the practical collaboration with national
entities, I would like to highlight the support from the Calouste
Gulbenkian Foundation and the Portuguese Institute of High
Culture, as well as some Portuguese chemical companies,
which unequivocally contributed to the construction of the
“new” organic chemistry Laboratory, in the Instituto Superior
Técnico, under the guidance of Professor Pierre Laurent. In fact,the chemical Engineering course at Instituto Superior Técnico
required both a strong theoretical and a practical component
that led Professor Pierre Laurent to the improvement of organic
chemistry laboratory of this prestigious Portuguese Engineering
school, in the 1950s and 1960s .
So, in 1953-1954, I must mention the support of several
entities that allowed a “new” organic chemistry laboratory to
be built in this Portuguese engineer school. It was built with
exclusive “products of national origin” - as argued by Professor
Pierre Laurent – such as Portuguese Dyrup, Ciba, the Portuguese
Liquid Air Society, among other companies. In this regard,
Professor Pierre Laurent has established several contacts in
order to quickly conclude this project in Portugal, namely with
the collaboration of Engineer Frederico Ulrich, former Minister of
Public Works and Director of the Atomic Energy Center, as well as
with Engineer Saraiva and Sousa, under-Secretary of Portuguese
State for Public Works, who “accelerated the formalities of this
work”, as Pierre Laurent said publicly.
Thus, since then, a number of practical works in organic
chemistry have been done in this laboratory, such as one
carried out with Maria Inês Soares, which was published in the
prestigious «Portuguese Journal of Chemistry» on “the infrared
spectra of oxazolidines (oxazolidines in position 2 and n)” .
In this research work, it was studied the issue of “symmetry” in
organic chemistry, referring to by Professor Pierre Laurent that
«the band that appears in the infrared spectra corresponds to
the respiration vibration of the oxazolidine nucleus because
due to the asymmetry of the molecule, such vibration is active
in infrared. In cyclopentane, the same vibration is inactive at
infrared, presenting in Raman a frequency of 890/930 cm-1».
Finally, Pierre Laurent, an eminent French chemist who
motivated several young engineers from Instituto Superior
Técnico for research, education and industry, was removed
from the academic staff of this Institution for political reasons
during the Salazar government (perhaps for keeping in touch
with Russian scientists), in the 1960s . Thus, Professor Pierre
Laurent went to Tanarive College, in Madagascar, but without
continuing disciples of his work at the Instituto Superior Técnico,
In summary, Professor Pierre Laurent was arguably a
reference in teaching, pedagogy and investigation in the field
of organic chemistry for Portuguese engineers of the Instituto
Superior Técnico, in the 1950s and 1960s .