Andrés Manuel del Río
Andrés Manuel del Río Fernández (10 November 1764 – 23 March
1849) was a Spanish–Mexican scientist and naturalist who discovered
compounds of vanadium in 1801.
2 Mining in New Spain
3 The discovery of vanadium
4 Later life
5 Death and recognition
6 Selected scientific works
9 External links
Andrés del Río studied analytical chemistry and metallurgy in Spain,
where he was born. He received his bachelor's degree from the
University of Alcalá de Henares
University of Alcalá de Henares in 1780. The government gave him a
scholarship to enter the School of Mines in Almadén, Spain, where he
showed great aptitude. Later he moved to Paris, where he studied under
the chemist Jean Darcet. He continued his studies in Freiberg,
Germany, under the direction of Abraham Gottlob Werner. In Freiberg he
got to know Baron Alexander von Humboldt. He then returned to
a student of Antoine Lavoisier. During the French Revolution
Lavoisier, considered the founder of modern chemistry, was executed on
the guillotine. Del Río was forced to flee to England. He also
collaborated with Abbé René Just Haüy, considered the founder of
Mining in New Spain
In 1792, the Real Seminario de Minería (College of Mines) was founded
Spain by a decree of King Charles III of Spain, with the object
of reforming the study of mining and metallurgy in the colony. The
institution was initially headed by
Fausto Elhúyar (1755–1833), the
discoverer of tungsten. The young del Río was named to the chair of
chemistry and mineralogy. Del Río arrived at the port of
20 October 1794, on the ship San Francisco de Alcántara out of
Once in his new position, del Río dedicated himself to teaching and
scientific investigation. On 17 April 1795 he opened the first course
in mineralogy ever presented in New Spain. He made important studies
of minerals and developed innovative methods in mining. In
collaborated with the German naturalist Baron Alexander von Humboldt.
Humboldt was impressed with del Río, and wrote "It is in
the best work of mineralogy in Spanish has been published, the
Elementos de Orictognosia of Señor Del Rio." In fact, this was the
first book of mineralogy published anywhere in America. Humboldt was
an active participant in the investigations of the College of Mining.
He organized excursions to Chapultepec, to the basaltic zone of
Pedregal de Xitle, and to Peñón de los Baños, accumulating data and
samples of minerals and rocks that were then submitted to chemical
tests for identification.
In 1820 del Río was named a deputy to the Spanish Cortes. He was a
liberal who argued for the independence of New Spain. He was in Madrid
Mexico gained its independence. Invited to remain in Spain, he
nevertheless returned to
Mexico (in 1821), which he considered his
In 1829, after the turbulent period of war with Spain, the government
Mexico expelled the Spaniards resident in the country,
with some notable exceptions. Del Río was one of the exceptions. The
expulsion had a major impact on the work of the College of Mining. The
director, Fausto Elhúyar, was forced to resign and leave the country.
Indignant over the expulsion of his colleagues, del Río showed
solidarity by himself entering voluntary exile in Philadelphia. There
he was highly honored, and his book was published in another edition.
He returned to
Mexico in 1834 and again occupied the chair of
mineralogy at the College.
The discovery of vanadium
Vanadium is not found in the native state, but is present in minerals
such as vanadinite, Pb5(VO4)3Cl.
In 1803, while examining mineral samples sent to him by the Purísima
del Cardenal mine in
Zimapán in the state of Hidalgo, del Río
arrived at the conclusion that he had found a new metallic element. He
prepared various compounds of the element, and observing their diverse
colors, he named the element pancromium. Later, on observing that the
compounds changed color to red on heating, he substituted the name
eritronium for the element. (Eritros means red in Greek.) The
following year he gave samples containing the new element to Alexander
von Humboldt, who sent them on to
Hippolyte Victor Collet-Descotils
Hippolyte Victor Collet-Descotils in
París for his analysis. Collet-Descotils's analysis found
(mistakenly) that the samples contained only chromium. Humboldt, in
turn, rejected del Río's claim of the discovery of a new element, and
del Río himself concluded his discovery had been an error.
In 1830, 27 years after its initial discovery, Professor Nils Gabriel
Sefström of Sweden rediscovered the element. He gave it its current
name, vanadium, in honor of the Scandinavian goddess of love and
beauty, Vanadis. In the same year, Friedrich Wöhler, the German
chemist who had synthesized urea, analyzed some of del Río's samples
and proved that vanadium and eritronium were the same. Later the U.S.
George William Featherstonhaugh
George William Featherstonhaugh proposed without success
that the element should be named rionium, in honor of its original
In 1867 the English chemist
Henry Enfield Roscoe
Henry Enfield Roscoe isolated the pure
metal for the first time. He used hydrogen to get rid of the chloride
around the pure vanadium.
In 1805 del Río established an ironworks at Coalcomán. After
overcoming numerous obstacles, he produced the first iron in Mexico,
on 29 April 1807. Four years later, during the Mexican war of
independence, the royalists destroyed the ironworks. The iron he
produced was superior to the celebrated imported iron from Biscay,
He was bitter about Humboldt's mistake in not confirming the discovery
of vanadium, and strongly reproached him. He continued to teach at the
College of Mines until his death, a course that "could well have been
taught at the Polytechnic school in Paris", according to Michel
Chevalier, who visited del Río shortly before the latter's death.
Death and recognition
Palacio de Mineria,
Andrés Manuel del Río
Andrés Manuel del Río died at 84 in 1849, after a long and
productive academic career. His work and his liberal politics were
important to the building of an independent Mexican nation. He was a
founding member of the College of Mines, and laid the base for the
current Institute of Geology of the University of Mexico. He was a
member of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Madrid, The Wernerian
Natural History Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Academy of Sciences of
France, the Economic Society of Leipzig, the Linnean Society of
Leipzig, the Royal Academy of Saxony and the Philosophical Society of
Philadelphia. He was also president of the Geological Society of
Philadelphia and the Lyceum of Natural History of New York.
His extensive scientific work, besides the first identification of
vanadium, included the discovery and description of various minerals
and the invention of methods of extraction of minerals for use in the
mining industry. After his death, the important mining district that
includes Batopilas in Chihuahua was named in his honor.
A sample of vanadium
The Chemical Society of
Mexico instituted the prestigious National
Chemistry Prize "Andrés Manuel Del Río" in 1964, with the object of
giving public recognition to the work done by chemical professionals
who have made extraordinary contributions to raise the level and
prestige of the profession. It is awarded with a medal containing the
likeness of del Río and a commemorative plaque.
When he died, he left his family a famous name, many debts, and some
copies of his Elementos de orictogonosia (1804), which he had been
unable to sell.
Andrés Manuel Del Río, Luis E. Miramontes, inventor of the first
oral contraceptive, and Mario J. Molina, winner of the Nobel Prize in
Chemistry in 1995, are the three Mexican chemists of outstanding world
significance. Miramontes won the "Andrés Manuel Del Río" Prize in
Selected scientific works
Elementos de Orictognesia o del conocimiento de los fósiles, prepared
for use in the Real Seminario de Mineria de México, 1795.
Analyse des deus nouvelles espéces minérales composées de
séléniure de zinc et de sulfure de mercure. Annals des Mines, Paris,
Découverte de l´iodure de mercure au Mexique. Annals des Mines,
Paris, 5, 1829.
Elementos de Orictognesia, o del conocimiento de los fósiles según
el sistema de Bercelio; y según los principios de Abraham Góttlob
Wérner, con la sinonimia inglesa, alemana y francesa, para uso del
Seminario Nacional de Minería de México. Philadelphia, 1832.
(in Spanish) "Río, Andrés Manuel del," Enciclopedia de México, v.
Mexico City, 1987.
(in Spanish) Alessio Robles, Vito. El ilustre maestro Andrés Manuel
Mexico City, 1937. 31 p.
(in Spanish) Arnaiz y Freg, Arturo. Andrés Manuel del Río: Estudio
Mexico City: Casino Español de México, 1936.
(in Spanish) Arnaiz y Freg, Arturo. Don Andrés del Río,
descubrimiento del Eritronio (Vanadio).
Mexico City: Cultura, 1948. 44
(in Spanish) Prieto, Carlos et al.
Andrés Manuel del Río
Andrés Manuel del Río y su obra
científica: Segundo centenario de su natalicio, 1764-1964. México:
Compañía Fundidora de Fierro y Acero de Monterrey, 1966. 81 p.
(in Spanish) Ramírez, Santiago E. Biografía del sr. D. Andrés
Manuel del Río: Primer catedrático de mineralogía del Colegio de
Minería. México: Imp. del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, 1891. 56 p.
(in Spanish) Ramírez, Santiago. Ensayos biográficos de Joaquín
Velásquez de León y Andrés Manuel del Río. México: UNAM, Facultad
de Ingeniería, Sociedad de ex-alumnos, 1983.
(in Spanish) Rojo, Onofre. La prioridad en los descubrimientos y su
relación con la infraestructura científica. Avance y Perspectiva 20:
107-111 (1997). ISSN 0185-1411.
A short biography of
Andrés Manuel del Río
Andrés Manuel del Río is found in "Oxford
Dictionary of Scientists" by Oxford University Press, 1999.
(in Spanish) La importancia química del vanadio y Don del Rio
(in Spanish) História de la mineralogía en México y síntesis
biográfica (Archived 2009-10-25)
(in Spanish) Portada del Manual de Orictognosia
(in Spanish) Palacio de Mineria en la Ciudad de México
(in Spanish) Premio Nacional de Química
(in Spanish) Andrés Manuel del Río. Polymath Virtual Library,
Fundación Ignacio Larramendi
ISNI: 0000 0001 2131 4859