Joseph Achille Le Bel

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Le Bel, Joseph Achille

(zhôsĕf` äshēl` ləbĕl), 1847–1930, French chemist. He was educated at the École polytechnique and carried out much of his research in his own private laboratory. He theorized (1874) that optical activity—the presence of two forms of the same organic molecule, one a mirror image of the other—is due to an asymmetric carbon atom bound to four different groups. For this contribution he is regarded as the cofounder of stereochemistry, with J. H. van't Hoff. His interests also included petrochemistry, cosmology, and biology.
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Le Bel, Joseph Achille


Born Jan. 21, 1847, in Péchelbronn, Alsace; died Aug. 6, 1930, in Paris. French chemist; member of the Academy of Sciences (1929).

Le Bel graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique in 1867 and then worked with C. A. Wurtz in Paris. He did research on the optical activity of organic compounds. In 1874, along with J. Van’t Hoff, he proposed the asymmetric carbon atom theory as an explanation for the optical phenomena. He isolated certain optically active alcohols (1878–81) and obtained the first optically active asymmetric ammonia compound (1891).


Bykov, G. V. Istoriia stereokhimii organicheskikh soedinenii. Moscow, 1966.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.