Biography of Wiktor Kemula

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Wiktor Kemula was a famous Polish chemist, electrochemist, polarographist. He greatly contributed to the development of electroanalytical chemistry, particularly polarography. He developed a hanging mercury drop electrode (HMDE). Wiktor Kemula, Polarographic Conference in Warsaw, Chair of the Conference, 1956

Wiktor Kemula was Professor of Chemistry in Lvov University (1936-1941), then his scientific career was interupted by WWII. After the war he was a head of the Department of Inorganic Chemistry in Warsaw University (1945-1968). He was also a head of the laboratory of Physicochemical Analysis in the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw, (1952-1972). Kemula was a leader of Polish polarographists and he greatly contributed to the electroanalytical chemistry, particularly, cyclic voltammetry, oscillopolarography and anodic stripping voltammetry.

Professor Kemula developed the hanging mercury drop electrode (HMDE) in the late 1950s that helped launch modern electroanalytical chemistry in Warsaw. As a result hundreds of papers were published in the areas of amalgam electrochemistry, anodic and cathodic stripping, cyclic voltammetry of inorganic and organic substrates, and electron transfer rate.

Wiktor Kemula, Polarographic Conference in Warsaw, the audience, 1956

The hanging mercury drop electrode (HMDE) developed by Prof. Wiktor Kemula is a spherical stationary mercury electrode with a surface area of the order of a square millimeter. A mercury drop is suspended at the end of a glass capillary and its size is conveniently adjusted with amicrometer screw. The HMDE can be used as a working electrode for various electroanalytical techniques for studying of mechanisms and kinetics of electrochemical reactions as well as for determination of analytes in an electrolyte solution.

Wiktor Kemula

Wiktor Kemula developed different variants of voltammetry, in particular pioneering work on chromato-polarography (1953), i.e., polarographic detection for liquid chromatography. This technique continued to develop slowly until the early 1970s when modern high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) emerged. This new, highly efficient chromatographic method could only be used with detectors ensuring low dispersion.

It was not easy to modify the dropping mercury electrode cells to satisfy this requirement. However, at the same time, electroanalytical chemists, who already had much experience in using carbon-basedelectrodes for oxidative detection in flow analysis, put forward the idea of oxidative amperometric detection in liquid chromatography. In this technique, solid or quasi-solid (paste) electrodes were used and this made possible the construction of miniaturized cells with just a few microliter volume.

W. Kemula started an active center of polarographic research in Poland. The second generation of Kemula’s co-workers contributed to the flourishing of Polish electrochemistry in the 1970s and 1980s.

Professor Wiktor Kemula with a group of his associates at the Department of Inorganic Chemistry, 1957.

Wiktor Kemula’s Medal was establish by the Polish Chemical Society as an award for achievements and to memorize Prof. Kemula.

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