Thursday, January 12, 2023

Richard Willstätter - German organic chemist

Richard Martin Willstätter was a German organic chemist whose study of the structure of plant pigments won him the 1915 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He invented paper chromatography independently of Mikhail Tsvett.

Richard Martin Willstätter was born in Karlsruhe in Baden on August 13, 1872, was the son of Maxwell (Max) Willstätter, a textile merchant, and his wife, Sophie Ulmann. He went to school in Nuremberg and studied chemistry at the University of Munich. Willstätter obtained his doctorate from the University of Munich in 1894 for work on the structure of cocaine.

While serving as an assistant to Adolf von Baeyer at Munich, he continued research into the structure of alkaloids and synthesized several. Willstätter stayed there for the following fifteen years, first as a student, from 1896 as a lecturer – pursuing his scientific work independently – until in early 1902 he became J. Thiele’s successor as Extraordinary Professor.

He was professor of chemistry at the University of Berlin and director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute at Berlin (1912–16), where his investigations revealed the structure of many of the pigments of flowers and fruits.

In 1915 he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his studies on pigments in the plant kingdom, especially chlorophyll.

During the 1920s, he investigated the mechanisms of enzyme reactions and did much to establish that enzymes are chemical substances and not biological organisms. His view of enzymes as nonprotein in nature was widely held until disproved in 1930.

In 1924 Willstätter resigned and became a freelancer in the chemical industry. In 1938 he fled from the Gestapo with the help of his pupil A. Stoll and managed to emigrate to Switzerland, losing all but a meagre part of his belongings.

Willstätter was married to Sophie Leser, the daughter of a Heidelberg University professor. They had one son, Ludwig, and one daughter, Ida Margarete. He died of a heart attack in Muralto (Ticino) on 3 August 1942
Richard Willstätter - German organic chemist

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