Andreas Sigismund Marggraf was the son of the pharmacist Henning Christian Marggraf (1680–1754), who owned a pharmacy in Berlin and lectured at the Collegium Medico-Chirurgicum (medical/surgical school). Andreas came in contact with the pharmaceutical and medical business early and started studying at the medical school in 1725. He studied with Caspar Neumann in Berlin, Germany but he also visited pharmacies in other cities, including Frankfurt am Main and Strassbourg. He also attended lectures at the University of Halle. Andreas worked in his father's pharmacy and focused his work on chemistry. Later in his life he helped to reorganize the Societät der Wissenschaften into the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Prussian Academy of Science) and became the director of the physics section in 1760.
Even after a stroke in 1774, he continued work in the laboratories of the Akademie until his retirement in 1781.
Marggraf introduced several new methods into experimental chemistry. He used precipitation methods for analysis, like the Prussian blue reaction for the detection of iron. Marggraf's major work in inorganic chemistry included the improved production of phosphorus from urine and the detection of alkali metal salts in plant ash and their identification by flame test.
Marggraf had isolated zinc in 1746 by heating a mixture of calamine and carbon in a closed vessel without copper. He was unaware that the same process had been developed (and patented) by William Champion in England around 1738–1740 and by Anton von Swab in Sweden around 1742. Marggraf however had described the process in great detail and established its basic theory, for which he is often credited with isolation of zinc. This procedure became commercially practical by 1752.
^Marggraf, Opuscules Chymiques de M. Margraf (Paris, France: Philippe Vincent, 1762), vol. 2, "XXV. Dissertation: Preuves qui démontrent que la partie alcaline séparée du sel de cuisine, est un sel alcali véritable, & non une terre alcaline" [Proofs that demonstrate that the alkaline part separated from cooking salt is a true alkaline salt and not an alkaline earth], pages 375-420; see especially page 386: Marggraf describes the distinguishing charactertistics of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate, including the color of the flames when those salts burn:
Original text : La flamme du premier est jaune; celle du second, bleuâtre.
Translation : The flame of the first [sodium nitrate] is yellow; that of the second [potassium nitrate], bluish.