Mathieu Orfila

Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila (Catalan: Mateu Josep Bonaventura Orfila i Rotger) (24 April 1787 – 12 March 1853) was a Spanish toxicologist and chemist, the founder of the science of toxicology.

Mathieu Orfila
Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila.jpg
Born24 April 1787
Died12 March 1853 (aged 65)
Alma materUniversity of Valencia
University of Barcelona
Known forFounded toxicology
Scientific career
FieldsToxicology and chemistry
InfluencesLouis Nicolas Vauquelin

Role in Forensic ToxicologyEdit

If there is reason to believe that a murder or attempted murder may have been committed using poison, a forensic toxicologist is often brought in to examine pieces of evidence such as corpses and food items for poison content. In Orfila's time the primary type of poison in use was arsenic, but there were no reliable ways of testing for its presence. Orfila created new techniques and refined existing techniques in his first treatise, Traité des poisons, greatly enhancing their accuracy.

In 1840, Marie Lafarge was tried for the murder of her husband. Although she had had access to arsenic, and arsenic had been found in the victim's food, none could be found in the corpse. Orfila was asked by the court to investigate. He discovered that the test used, the Marsh test, had been performed incorrectly, and that there was in fact arsenic in the body; LaFarge was subsequently found guilty.


  • J. R. Bertomeu-Sánchez, A. Nieto-Galan (2006). Chemistry, medicine and crime: Mateu J B Orfila (1787–1853) and his times (PDF). Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications. p. 311. ISBN 0-88135-275-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-07-20.

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