What molecule am I?
Pyridine is a colorless liquid with a foul odor and several hazardous properties. In the late 1840s, physician/chemist Thomas Anderson at the University of Edinburgh produced several liquids by heating animal bones to high temperatures. One of these turned out to be pyridine, which he named after the Greek word pyr (fire).
About 20 years later, chemists Wilhelm (aka Guglielmo) Körner at the University of Milan (Italy) and James Dewar at the University of Cambridge (UK), working separately, elucidated the structure of pyridine. The two chemists were friends, but they disagreed about which of them was the first to conceive of the structure. An interesting account of this episode is given by Alan J. Rocke at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland) in a 1988 article.
In 1881, German chemist Arthur Rudolf Hantzsch at the University of Leipzig (Germany) developed a cumbersome, low-yielding synthesis of pyridine. Later, in 1924, Russian chemist Aleksei Chichibabin came up with an improved method, which is still in use today: a reaction between formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and ammonia over a transition-metal fluoride catalyst to give dihydropyridine, followed by high-temperature catalytic oxidation to pyridine. Several other methods are also used, including the oxidative dealkylation of alkylpyridines.
Pyridine’s structure is isoelectronic with that of benzene, but its properties are quite different. Pyridine is completely miscible with water, whereas benzene is only slightly soluble. Like all hydrocarbons, benzene is neutral (in the acid–base sense), but because of its nitrogen atom, pyridine is a weak base.
In industry and in the lab, pyridine is used as a reaction solvent, particularly when its basicity is useful, and as a starting material for synthesizing some herbicides, fungicides, and antiseptics. Current worldwide pyridine production is ≈20,000 t/year, valued at about US$600 million.
Learn more about this molecule from CAS, the most authoritative and comprehensive source for chemical information.