Emil Fischer

  • From:

    University of Berlin

  • Year:

    1913

  • Subject:

    Life Science

  • Award:

    Cresson

  • Citation:

    Organic and biological chemistry

Hermann Emil Fischer was born in 1852, at Euskirchen, in the Cologne district of Germany. Fischer desired to study physics, but his father (who actually wanted him to enter the family lumber business) sent him to the University of Bonn to study chemistry in 1871. But in 1872, however, he still wished to study physics, and was persuaded by his cousin Otto Fischer to go with him to the newly established University of Strasbourg. Here Fischer met Adolf von Baeyer, under whose influence he finally decided to devote his life to chemistry. Studying under von Baeyer, Fischer took his Ph.D. at Strasbourg in 1874.

In the same year, he was appointed assistant instructor at Strasbourg and here he discovered the first hydrazine base, phenylhydrazine. The discovery of phenylhydrazine, reputed to have been accidental, was related to much of Fischer's later work. In 1892, he was asked to take the Chair of Chemistry at the University of Berlin, where he remained until his death in 1919.

Fischer is best known for producing synthetic sugars and, from these, various enzymes. His descriptions of the chemistry of the carbohydrates and peptides laid the foundations for the science of biochemistry. Fischer began working on a group of compounds that included uric acid and caffeine. He realized that they were all related to a hitherto unknown substance, which he called purine. Over the next few years he synthesized about 130 related compounds, one of which was the first synthetic nucleotide. These studies led to the synthesis of powerful hypnotic drugs derived from barbituric acids (barbiturates). In 1884, Fischer discovered a key reaction in the study of sugars. He went on to determine the structures of glucose, fructose, mannose, and the group of sugars known collectively as hexoses. Fischer's investigations into the chemistry of proteins began 1899. He synthesized the amino acids ornithine (1,4-diaminopentanoic acid) 1901, serine (1-hydroxy-2-aminobutanoic acid) 1902, and the sulphur-containing cystine 1908. He then combined amino acids to form polypeptides.

Information as of 1913