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Google Doodle perks up for a chemist who uncovered coffee's secret

Google hopes to generate buzz about Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge and what he learned about caffeine.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read

Java nice day.


You can thank Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge for making some eye-opening discoveries, including one that's an integral part of our lives 200 years later.

The German analytical chemist began conducting chemical experiments at a young age, identifying the pupil-dilating effects of belladonna when he accidentally splashed a drop of the toxic perennial, also known as deadly nightshade, into his eye.

But a stimulating 1819 discovery is the reason Google is celebrating Runge's 225th birthday Friday, by way of an animated Doodle. For after Runge demonstrated his belladonna discovery to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, he was encouraged to analyze the chemical makeup of coffee beans, leading a few months later to the identification of caffeine as its active ingredient.

Watch this: How Google made a Doodle game

Doodles have been a whimsical touch on Google's search page off and on since the first one appeared in 1998. At that time, Google's co-founders spoofed the traditional "out of office" sign by incorporating the Burning Man symbol into the company's corporate logo. Since then, the addition of colorful -- and sometimes interactive -- graphics to Google's logo to highlight notable people, events, holidays and anniversaries has become a ritual. Doodles have celebrated, among many other things, Pac-Man's anniversary, Copernicus' birthday, Mother's Day and the World Cup, as well as reminding us of lesser-known real-world heroes.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, on Feb. 8, 1794, Runge earned his doctorate from the University of Berlin and went on to teach chemistry at the University of Breslau until 1831, when he went to work for a chemical company until 1852. His other work included the first coal tar dye (aniline blue) and the first extraction of quinoline, which led to the derivative quinine, a drug used to treat malaria. 

Despite his contributions to chemistry, Runge died in poverty in 1867 at the age of 73.

First published Feb. 7, 6 p.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 8 at 10:23 a.m. PT:  Adds additional background information.

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