Jabir Ibn Haiyan, the chemist Geber of the Middle Ages, is generally known as the father of chemistry. Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan, sometimes called al-Harrani and al-Sufi, was the son of the druggist (Attar). The precise date of his birth is the subject of some discussion, but it is established that he practiced medicine and alchemy in Kufa around 776 C.E. He is reported to have studied under Imam Ja’far Sadiq and the Ummayed prince Khalid Ibn Yazid. In his early days, he practiced medicine and was under the patronage of the Barmaki Vizir during the Abbssid Caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid. He shared some of the effects of the downfall of the Barmakis and was placed under house arrest in Kufa, where he died in 803 C.E.
Jabir’s major contribution was in the field of chemistry. He introduced experimental investigation into alchemy, which rapidly changed its character into modern chemistry. On the ruins of his well-known laboratory remained after centuries, but his fame rests on over 100 monumental treatises, of which 22 relate to chemistry and alchemy. His contribution of fundamental importance to chemistry includes perfection of scientific techniques such as crystallization, distillation, calcinations, sublimation and evaporation and development of several instruments for the same. The fact of early development of chemistry as a distinct branch of science by the Arabs, instead of the earlier vague ideas, is well-established and the very name chemistry is derived from the Arabic word al-Kimya, which was studied and developed extensively by the Muslimscientists.
Perhaps Jabir’s major practical achievement was the discovery of mineral and others acids, which he prepared for the first time in his alembic (Anbique). Apart from several contributions of basic nature to alchemy, involving largely the preparation of new compounds and development of chemical methods, he also developed a number of applied chemical processes, thus becoming a pioneer in the field of applied science. Hisachievements in this field include preparation of various metals, development of steel, dyeing of cloth and tanning of leather, varnishing of water-proof cloth, use of manganese dioxide in glass-making, prevention of rusting, lettering in gold, identification of paints, greases, etc. During the course of these practical endeavors, he also developed aqua regia to dissolve gold. The alembic is his great invention, which made easy and systematic the process of distillation. Jabir laid great stress on experimentation and accuracy in his work.
Based on their properties, he has described three distinct types of substances. First, spirits i.e. those which vaporize on heating, like camphor, arsenic and ammonium chloride; secondly, metals, for example, gold, silver, lead, copper, iron, and thirdly, the category of compounds which can be converted into powders. He thus paved the way for such later classification as metals, non-metals and volatile substances.