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Who is Sir William Henry Perkin?

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Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye, known as mauveine.

The Google Doodle on Monday featured British chemist Sir William Henry Perkin on his 180th birth anniversary. Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye, known as mauveine.

Born on March 12, 1838, in London, Perkin accidentally discovered the aniline purple dye when he was a student at the Royal College of Chemistry in London. He was studying under Wilhelm von Hofmann, a revered German chemist.

“Perkin was cleaning out dark muck from a beaker after a failed experiment, when he noticed that the substance left a vivid purple stain when diluted with alcohol,” the official Google doodle page pointed out.

Perkin was trying to find a substitute for quinine, the only viable medical treatment for malaria in 1856, as demand was exceeding supply. However, his attempt at making quinine from aniline, an inexpensive coal tar waste, was unsuccessful. Instead, what resulted from the experiment was a dark substance. Perkin further probed, adding potassium dichromate and alcohol into the aniline in various stages, which resulted in a deep purple solution. He figured that the solution could be used to colour fabric. He was quick to recognise the commercial possibility of the dye, originally named as Tyrian Purple.

Deep in purple, the doodle captures the violent frenzied fashion trends of that era as Perkin’s discovery made the expensive colour easily available to the masses. Purple clothing was in demand and in style then, but was available only to a certain section who could afford it. Besides, the fading colour was a problem. Queen Victoria is said to have worn a mauveine-dyed gown to the Royal Exhibition of 1862. Following his success in manufacturing, Perkin was knighted on the 50th anniversary of the discovery in 1906.

Perkin, known for giving birth to the modern chemical industry, did not stop with this discovery but went on researching to find other aniline dye colours and synthetic scents. He died on July 14, 1907.

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