50th Anniversary: Death of Richard Kuhn

50th Anniversary: Death of Richard Kuhn

Author: ChemViews

Richard Kuhn was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 3, 1900. There, he was a schoolmate of Wolfgang Pauli, who later received the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physics. Kuhn studied chemistry at the University of Vienna and the University of Munich, Germany, where he received his Ph.D. in 1922 for work on enzymes under the supervision of Richard Willstätter. He completed his habilitation in Munich in 1925. The same year, he joined the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland, and became Professor of General and Analytical Chemistry there in 1926. His research, however, focused almost exclusively on organic chemistry.

In 1929, Kuhn joined the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research (today’s Max Planck Institute for Medical Research) in Heidelberg, Germany. He became Director of the Institute, as well as Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Heidelberg, in 1937. His research was concerned with polyenes, and he isolated and characterized a range of carotenoids. This led him to focus on vitamins, and he carried out groundbreaking work on the structures of vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and vitamin B6.

In 1938, Kuhn became President of the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft zu Berlin (DChG), a precursor organization of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh, German Chemical Society). The same year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his work on carotenoids and vitamins”. However, he was forced to decline the award based on a decree by the Nazi government prohibiting scientists in Germany from accepting the Nobel Prize. He received the Nobel medal in 1948, after the war.

During World War II, Kuhn seems to have sympathized with the Nazi regime. He worked on chemical weapons research, which led to the discovery of the nerve gas soman in 1944. In 2005, research on Kuhn’s support of the Nazi regime led the GDCh to stop awarding the Richard Kuhn Medal for achievements in biochemistry (first awarded in 1968) [1].

After the War, Kuhn cooperated with the Allies, worked in the United States for a while, and returned to Heidelberg in 1953. Richard Kuhn died on July 31, 1967, in Heidelberg.

Richard Kuhn is the answer to Guess the Chemist (67).


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Selected Publications by Richard Kuhn

 

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