Joseph Lister founder of antiseptic surgery used carbolic acid an antiseptic

Joseph Lister - father of antiseptics

Article on Joseph Lister

Biography & Contributions

Joseph Lister was born on April 05, 1827 – died on February 10, 1912. Lister is known as the founder of antiseptic surgery. Lister received prestigious medals like Royal medal in the year of 1880, Albert medal in the year of 1894, Copley medal in the year of 1902.

By applying Louis Pasteur's advances in microbiology, he promoted the idea of sterile portable ports. In 1865 Lister began using carbolic acid or phenol as an antiseptic during surgery. He first suspected it would prove an adequate disinfectant because it was used to ease the stench from fields irrigated with sewage waste. He presumed it was safe because fields treated with carbolic acid produced no apparent ill-effects on the livestock that later grazed upon them.

Lister found that the solution swabbed on wounds remarkably reduced the incidence of gangrene. Lister also sprayed the air with carbolic acid to kill airborne germs.


Phenol / carbolic acid, is an aromatic organic compound with the molecular formula C6H5OH. It is a white crystalline solid. It is mildly acidic and requires careful handling due to its propensity to cause chemical burns. Phenol is an important industrial commodity as a precursor to many materials and useful compounds. Its major uses involve its conversion to plastics or related materials. Phenol and its chemical derivatives are key for building polycarbonates, epoxies, Bakelite, nylon, detergents, herbicides such as phenoxy herbicides, and numerous pharmaceutical drugs.

Phenol is highly reactive toward electrophilic aromatic substitution as the oxygen atom's pi electrons donate electron density into the ring. Phenol is easily neutralized by sodium hydroxide forming sodium phenate or phenolate, but it being weaker than carbonic acid cannot be neutralized by sodium bicarbonate or sodium carbonate to liberate carbon dioxide.

Phenol is also a versatile precursor to a large collection of drugs, most notably aspirin but also many herbicides and pharmaceutical drugs. Phenol is also used as an oral anesthetic/analgesic in products. It is a component of industrial paint strippers used in the aviation industry for the removal of epoxy, polyurethane and other chemically resistant coatings.

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