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Frederick George Donnan

Born 1870-09-05
Died 1956-12-16

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British physical chemst

Biography of Frederick George Donnan

Frederick George Donnan was the son of a Belfast merchant. He was educated at Belfast Royal Academy and Queen’s College. Following graduation in Belfast he spent three years at Leipzig with Johannes Wislicenus (1835–1902) and Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald (1853–1932). He then spent a year at Berlin under Jacobus Henricus van’t Hoff, the first receiver of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. After working with van’t Hoff for a sustained period, moved to London to work with Sir William Ramsay (1852–1916) at University College. Ramsay won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1904. In 1901 Donnan was appointed to the teaching staff of Universitrry College. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1911 and succeeded Ramsay at University College in 1913.

Donna was drawn into industry during World War I, and for several years he worked on problems connected with the manufacture of «synthetic» ammonia and nitric acid, both in London and with the firm of Brunner Mondo Limited in Winnington, Cheshire. These industrial connections and interests were retained for the rest of his life, and even after his retirement in 1937 he continued to act as a consultant. His London house was destroyed in 1940, and he retired to Kent with his sisters. He was unmarried.
Can’t Hoff had aroused his interest in the problems of colloid’s, soap solutions, and osmotic pressures, and this interest led to his major paper, «The Theory of Membrane Equilibrium in the Presence of a Non-dialyzable Electrolyte» (1911).  This paper examined the effect of confining, by means of a membrane, a mixture of ions, one of which cannot pass through the membrane because of its large size. (In the absence of a membrane, the equilibrium of a protein with a salt solution is a similar case).
The theory of the Donnan membrane equilibrium has important applications in colloid chemistry and in the technologies of leather and gelatin, but above all in the understanding of the living cell, where it can give a quantitative account of ionic equilibria both within the cell and between the cell and its environment.
In later years he guided his department in London on a very loose rein, welcoming promising young men and leaving them free to follow their own interests. A wealthy, cultured, and highly articulate man, fond of travel and much given to hospitality. He wrote no book but was the author of more than 100 papers.

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