A Case for Integrated History and Philosophy of Chemistry: The Fertilizers of Justus von Liebig

Lunchtime Lectures
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Lunchtime Lecture by Lucía Lewowicz, Herdegen Fellow at the Science History Institute.

In 2012 Lucía Lewowicz began researching the scientific, technological, and industrial history of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company Ltd. (LEMCO). This talk will focus mainly on the story of one of the fertilizers associated with German chemist Justus von Liebig but that he did not produce; it was, however, manufactured by the company that bears his name. Lewowicz will discuss the historical antecedents of this product and of the failures of Liebig with his own fertilizers. She will also emphasize the true inventor of the so-called Liebig fertilizer—Georg Christian Giebert, the first manager of LEMCO.


Drawing of fertilizer apparatus by Justus von Liebig

Drawing of apparatus from Justus von Liebig’s Manuel pour l'analyse des substances organiques.

Science History Institute

Based on the unpublished doctoral thesis of Pat Munday, winner of the Liebig-Wöhler Freundschaft Prize, Lewowicz will show how the fertilizer was also Liebig’s great philosophical project. Liebig’s fertilizer underwent several alternating historical and theoretical descriptions. Only through the intervention of LEMCO itself did Liebig get the success he was looking for. The story of Liebig’s fertilizer provides another case study that proves the degree of integration between philosophy and history of chemistry.

About the Speaker

Lucía Lewowicz has taught at the University of the Republic in Uruguay since 1987 and became a full professor in 2009. She was director of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science for 10 years and today is department head. She has taught more than 10 lectures in Europe and the Americas, and organized two international congresses, one in Uruguay and another in Germany.

Although she works in the fields of history of science and philosophy of science, her academic formation is as a philosopher. She is the author of three books and more than 60 articles and reviews. She has won two national awards, one in philosophy and another in scientific research and popularization, both given by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Uruguay. She has also won an Alexander von Humboldt Scholarship that allowed her to work for a year at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

About the Series

Lunchtime Lectures are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.