In chemistry, many substances are highly toxic, such as heavy metals, cyanides, and some alkaloids, which can kill people invisible and are the poisons commonly used by drug users. In order to detect a poisoning case, the forensic doctor needs to perform a body test on the poisoned person and then use the knowledge of toxicology to detect these toxic chemicals from the human tissue.
However, more than 100 years ago, chemistry did not develop the branch science of toxicology. The police team also lacked scientifically qualified forensic doctors, so that every case of poisoning became a headache for the police. At this time, a Belgian chemist who was known for studying atomic weight stood up. He first analyzed the human tissue with toxicological methods and thinking, and finally successfully detected a murder mystery. The chemist is Jean Servis Stas.
Medical doctor obsessed with chemistry
Born in Leuven, Belgium, in 1813, Stas had a strong interest in the natural sciences. After graduating from high school, Stass came to the prestigious University of Leuven to study medicine and obtained a doctorate. He became a doctor.
For professional reasons, Stas often checks the chemical composition of the drug, or extracts the substance and makes the drug. For example, in his own attic, Stass purified phlorizin (a substance that can treat diabetes) from the bark of apple trees, and purified clavidin (a medical bactericidal substance) from everyday food. These jobs are inseparable from chemistry. Gradually, Stass became a chemical enthusiast. He learned the knowledge of analytical chemistry, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry, and developed excellent chemistry experiments.
In 1837, Stass gave up practicing medicine. He came to the Polytechnic of Paris and became a teaching assistant of Matthew Orfila. Orfila was a very famous chemist at the time. He took the lead in teaching toxicology as a branch of chemistry and wrote the first toxicology monograph of mankind – “Introduction to Toxicology”, with “The Father of Modern Toxicology” Reputation. Under the guidance of Orfila, Stass learned a lot of ways to analyze and detect toxic substances, and benefited a lot.
However, Stass only stayed in Paris for three years. In 1840, he returned to Brussels, Belgium, and became a professor of chemistry at the Royal Belgian Military Academy. In Brussels, Stass suspended the study of toxicology and turned to the world known for studying atomic weight.
At that time, atomic physics was still in its infancy, and people did not know what the inside of the atom looked like. The British chemist William Prut proposed a hypothesis that the atoms of all elements are composed of hydrogen atoms. This hypothesis is certainly wrong, but it attracts Stas to measure the relationship between atomic mass and the quality of hydrogen atoms. Through a series of sophisticated experiments, Stas completed the determination of the atomic mass of oxygen atoms and carbon atoms, resulting in more accurate values than before. Subsequently, Stass set the relative atomic weight of a large number of elements with 1/16 of the mass of oxygen atoms as a standard, and produced a periodic table of elements that has been widely used for more than 50 years. It was not until the early 20th century that other chemists improved Stas’s standard, using 1/12 of carbon atoms as a new standard for setting relative atomic weights.
Gustav Fonis death
In 1850, Stas, which was famous in Europe, received news from France. A bizarre death case just sensationalized France, and the local police hoped to get help from Stas.
The death of the case was the Frenchman Gustav Fonis, and the suspect in the case was Gustav’s sister Lydia Fonnis and the brother-in-law, Count Hippolyte Vista Pocamo. Count Pocamo is the son of a tobacco merchant, a nobleman who owns a huge castle, and Lydia is also rich. Bocamo and Lydia are married, a big reason is the fancy of the family’s money.
However, Pocamo is a rich second generation, spending a lot of money and sitting on the mountain; on the other hand, after Lydia’s father died, most of the property was left to Gustav, not Lydia. Therefore, Pocamo and Lydia have always been the property of the Funis family. Considering that Gustav was weak and weak, the Piaget couple felt that Gustav would die young, wait a few years, and the property would sooner or later. Transferred to Lydia.
However, waiting to wait, the Piaget couple waited for the news of Gustav’s marriage. If Gustav had his wife and children, then the count and the brother-in-law of the brother-in-law could not inherit the inheritance. Under the temptation of money, Pocamo and Lydia murdered and carefully planned a murder.
One day, the Piaget couple pretended to treat Gustav, but the warm family dinner was just over, and the servants were told that Gustav had a sudden stroke. The servants were scared, and they felt that this incident was very embarrassing, so they reported the case. The police took the doctor to check Gustav’s body and found that the dead’s mouth, tongue, throat and stomach were corroded and seemed to have swallowed any chemicals. However, the police have very limited knowledge of chemistry and poisons. They suspect that the Piaget couples were poisoned but could not produce evidence.
In order to find out the cause of Gustav’s death, the police detained the count and then soaked Gustav’s organs in alcohol and sent them to Brussels to consult Stas.
Chemical analysis to solve the case
When I was in Paris, Orfila had taught Stas how to detect toxic inorganic substances in biological tissues. However, there was no way to start with toxic organic substances in biological tissues, because by the technical means at the time, chemists could not be allowed to Pure organic molecules are isolated from biological tissues. In 1847, after consulting some famous chemists and conducting related research, Orfila made an arbitrary conclusion that chemists could not detect toxic organic matter from biological tissues.
However, Stas did not believe in Orphea’s remarks. He suspected that Gustav was poisoned by a certain plant base (a kind of organic matter). He decided to find out the toxic substances in Gustav’s body. After three months of continuous trials, Stass finally succeeded. He first puts the biological tissue of the Gustav organ into ether, and the substance in the biological tissue dissolves into the ether to make a solution. Stass then evaporates the solution in a special glass container that has been pre-charged with sulfuric acid to bind the plant bases that may be present. Finally, Stass extracted and purified the extract from the solution and detected the final substance. The result was the discovery of the plant base, nicotine.
It is well known that nicotine is an important component of tobacco and can act on the nervous system. High doses of nicotine can affect the body’s breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure in a matter of minutes. Gustav is weak, and if he takes a lot of nicotine, he will die. Not surprisingly.
According to the test results of Stas, the police immediately investigated whether Pocamo had ever received nicotine. According to the confession of the servants in the castle, Pocamo has claimed to create a new type of orchard insecticide, and in this name purchased a large number of tobacco leaves, set up a “laboratory” near the castle, trying to extract nicotine from the tobacco leaves. To this end, Pocamo not only visited famous chemists, but also designed experiments to test the toxic effects of nicotine with cats and dogs, and the bodies of these cats and dogs were buried in the castle garden. Soon, the police dug out the bodies of the burnt cats and dogs from the castle garden, and Stass found the nicotine again through the test.
In May 1851, the court found that the Pocamo murder was convicted – they had forced Gustav to swallow nicotine, and the key evidence on which the court’s decision was based was Stas’s chemical testing.
Stas was the first to find a way to detect alkaloids from human organic tissues. For many years, other chemists have also invented some qualitative tests for alkaloids, but they all refer to Stas method. The medical doctor, who is known worldwide for studying atomic weight, used chemical methods to help police bring the poisoned people to justice. This made Stass a well-respected chemist in the history of science.