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Google Doodle honours chemist who accidentally discovered synthetic dye

12 March 2018

The Doodle shows Sir William Henry Perkin with a bottle of the purple dye on the right of the Doodle, as the letters of the word Google flow through what appear to be men and women from the 19th century wearing clothes dyed in the colour. Perkin has been remembered for his discovery of first aniline dye, the colour of which was adopted by the British royalty and fashion industry then.

Perkin's first assignment, given to him by his superiors at the university, was to help discover how to synthesise quinine to combat malaria. However, he had started working as a chemist to assist the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann at Imperial College in London at the age of 15.

Hence the people wearing purple in the Google Doodle, a color too expensive for most people to wear, he made accessible to nearly all.

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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. Even Queen Victoria herself wore a mauveine-dyed gown to the Royal Exhibition of 1862!

Perkin was married twice and had an impressive seven children.

While experimenting, Perkin discovered that aniline could be partly transformed into a crude mixture which, when extracted with alcohol, produced a substance with an intense purple colour. Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, was also one of the leading trendsetters in Europe. However, his attempt at making quinine from aniline, an affordable coal tar waste, was unsuccessful.

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Perkin had made a lucrative discovery, and set to built factories and raise funds to made it widely available. Perkin had accidently invented the first synthetic dye. He was quick to recognise the commercial possibility of the dye, originally named as Tyrian Purple.

A 1906 painting of Perkin by Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

The reach of today's Doodle is limited to the United States, west coast of South America, the UK and a few other European countries, India, Japan and Indonesia. His three sons all became chemists.

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Google Doodle honours chemist who accidentally discovered synthetic dye