Hans von Euler-Chelpin – Biography

Hans von Euler-Chelpin was born on February 15, 1873, at Augsburg. His father, who was then a captain in the Royal Bavarian Regiment, was transferred to Munich and von Euler-Chelpin spent most of his childhood not far away with his grandmother at Wasserburg. After going to school at Munich, Wurzburg and Ulm, he studied art from 1891 until 1893 at the Munich Academy of Painting, first under Schmid-Reutte and later under Lenbach, whose gifted and powerful personality greatly influenced him. His desire to study problems of colour and especially the colour of the spectrum led von Euler-Chelpin to begin, in 1893, the study of science.

He therefore went to the University of Berlin to study chemistry under Emil Fischer and A. Rosenheim, and physics under E. Warburg and Max Planck; and in 1895 he took his doctorate at the University of Berlin.

He then took a short course in physical chemistry in Berlin and went, after this, to the University of Göttingen to work from 1896 until 1897 under W. Nernst. In the summer of 1897 he went to work in the laboratory of Svante Arrhenius in Stockholm and was appointed assistant there. In 1898 he qualified as Privatdozent in physical chemistry in the Royal University at Stockholm, and in 1899 he was appointed as such in that University. Between 1899 and 1900 he visited the laboratory of van 't Hoff. Both van 't Hoff and Nernst greatly influenced his scientific development.

Subsequently, visits to the laboratories of A. Hantzsch and J. Thiele confirmed his interest in organic chemistry and he then began to work on this subject, partly in collaboration with Astrid Cleve, who was his wife at that time. During this period he visited the laboratories of E. Buchner in Berlin and G. Bertrand at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

In 1906 he was appointed Professor of General and Organic Chemistry in the Royal University, Stockholm. In 1929 the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and the International Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation established in Stockholm the Vitamin Institute and Institute of Biochemistry, and von Euler-Chelpin was appointed as its Director. In 1941 he retired from teaching, but continued his researches.

Von Euler-Chelpin's first biochemical work was published in 1904. Its subject was the action of enzymes considered in relation to his earlier work on catalysis. This earlier work had won him, in 1898 the Lindblom Prize of the German Academy of Sciences for a paper on the catalytic hydrolysis of substrates by salt formation with the catalyst, work which he later developed further in collaboration with E. Rudberg and A. Ölander. From 1906 onwards, von Euler-Chelpin was chiefly concerned with physico-chemical and biochemical problems, publishing, from 1908 to 1909, the results of his work on the chemistry of plants, and in 1915 the results of his collaboration with P. Lindner on the chemistry of the fungi. From 1925 until 1930 he worked on the chemistry of enzymes.

An important part of von Euler-Chelpin's work was done in collaboration with K. Josephson on the enzymes saccharase and catalase. The work he had begun in 1905 on fermentation was specialized in his Institute to phosphorylation, and the first phases of fermentation and their catalysis were studied, with special attention to co-zymase and also related activators. In this latter work K. Myrback played a great part. An important result of his work with his collaborators on co-zymase was his clarification of its structure, other conclusions being confirmed by Lord Todd in 1956.

In 1924 von Euler-Chelpin began his numerous studies of the vitamins in collaboration with B. von Euler, Paul Karrer and Margareta Rydbom, with whom he carried out, in 1928 a study of the marked vitamin A activity of carotene. His work on fermentation and general enzyme chemistry was continued in the Institute established in Stockholm by the Wallenberg and Rockefeller Foundations, special attention being given to the use of enzyme chemistry for the study of heredity and the blood serum.

In 1929 von Euler-Chelpin was awarded jointly with Arthur Harden, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on alcoholic fermentation. In 1914 he had published a book on the chemistry of yeast and alcoholic fermentation. Between 1925 and 1934 he embodied the results of his very extensive research in enzymology in his monograph entitled Chemie der Enzyme, which was the first modern monograph on this subject. In 1957 he published with B. Eistert a book on the chemistry and biochemistry of reductones. With C. Martius he had succeeded in preparing triose-reductone. In 1958 he visited Japan and published a monograph on the reductones in collaboration with Professor K. Yamafuji and Drs. Namura and Adachi.

Later in 1935 von Euler-Chelpin investigated the biochemistry of tumours and especially studied the nucleic acids in tumours by means of labelled compounds by a technique he invented in collaboration with G. de Hevesy. On tumours he published two important monographs, one entitled the Biochemistry of Tumours, written in collaboration with Boleslaw Skarzynski of Cracow and published in 1942 and the other entitled The Chemotherapy and Prophylaxis of Cancer, published in 1962.

A careful teacher and a friend to all who worked with him, von Euler-Chelpin has inspired and exerted great influence on many workers in the field of biochemistry.

He was a Fellow of the Academies of Sciences of Bangalore, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Moscow, Leningrad, Halle, Göttingen, Tokio and New Delhi. He was a Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the Royal Institution, London, the Finnish Academy of Sciences, and the Academy of Sciences of New Delhi, a Foreign Member of the Max Planck Society, a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences, Paris, and an honorary member of the Academies of Sciences of Helsinki and Japan, the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Chemical Societies of France, Italy and Berlin, and of the Japanese Cancer Association, Tokio. He held honorary doctorates of the Universities of Stockholm, Zurich, Athens, Kiel, Berne, Turin, and Rutgers and New Brunswick Universities. In 1959, he was awarded the Grand Cross for Federal Services with Star, Germany.

Von Euler-Chelpin married twice. His first wife, Astrid Cleve, is mentioned above. They had five children. In 1913 he married Elisabeth Baroness af Ugglas, who collaborated with him in his work. There were four children by this marriage.

He died in Stockholm on November 6, 1964, at the age of 91.

From Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1922-1941, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1966

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

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