The first evidence of distillation was found in Tape Gowra, Mesopotamia. It consisted of a pot, which held almost 40 liters, and a collecting ring, that had a capacity of about 2 liters. This apparatus dates back to 3600 B.C.. Yet, it wasn't until the beginning of the 19th century that this technique was used in chemistry laboratories. Today, a variety of distillation techniques are used commonly in laboratories.
Steam distillation was invented when Avicenna, an Arabian physician, added water to rose petals and distilled the mixture in the 10th century. The rose water he collected is considered to be the first modern perfume.
Fractional distillation and vacuum distillation were invented near the end of the 18th century. The first columns invented for fractional distillation were simple open tubes and it wasn't until the period 1900-1930 that vast improvements were made. Vacuum distillation, distillation under low pressure, made its appearance in the laboratory setting in 1869.
There also exists freeze distillation. This involves removal of alcohol from water by subjecting the mixture to temperatures below the freezing point of water. The alcohol can then be separated from the ice and distilled using another technique.[Back to Marshall Fellowship]