Hermann Emil Fischer
Herrmann Emil Fischer is regarded as one of the leading chemists of his time. His insights into the structures of sugars, enzymes, proteins, and purines laid the foundations for modern Biochemistry.
Fischer was born in Euskirchen a provincial town in the Rhineland, on October 8, 1852, the eighth and last child of his parents. 1869 he received his school-leaving certificate as the best student of his year. From 1871 to 1874, he studied Chemistry at the Universities of Bonn, with August Kekulé, and Strasbourg, with Adolf Baeyer. There, he completed his doctorate in 1874 and then habilitated as early as 1876 at the University of Munich, where he was Professor of Analytical Chemistry from 1879 to 1881. From 1881 onwards, he worked at the University of Erlangen, until he accepted an appointment as a professor at the University of Würzburg in 1885. In 1892, he moved on to Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin, where he stayed until his death in 1919.
In 1902, Fischer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on carbohydrates and purines.
On July 15, 1919, Herrmann Emil Fischer, suffering from cancer, took his own life.
The Research Project that Led to the Nobel Prize
Fischer acquired his reputation as a chemist with his studies on sugars at Würzburg.
How could it be understood that so many different substances were formed through one and the same relation between only three elements – carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen? This could only be explained by different structures. But how to prove the existence of these different structures? Fischer found the solution for this problem in deliberate chemical breakdown. Accordingly, he had to work with a variety of rather evil-smelling compounds. Rapidly, the Chemical Institute gained a reputation for "stinking to high heaven." The burghers living in the neighborhood were complaining, and the students working in the laboratory had troubles in their social lives. After carbohydrates, Fischer turned to new and once again mostly uninvestigated fields – amino acids, peptides, and purines. With these entirely different substance classes, he developed accurate ideas about the problem complex and the respective solution as well. The mapping of the structure of caffeine and its complete synthesis in 1897 constituted other masterly achievements.
Working and Living in Würzburg
In his memoir, Fischer describes the then highly uncommon, rather informal academic life at Würzburg:
"That good cheer and humor were flourishing at Würzburg was not surprising. The friendly city with the magnificent palace, the lovely river, the beautiful parks, and the vine-garlanded hills, the cosy people of Lower Franconia, and the old Episcopal tradition were excellently suited to strengthening the already genial mood of the academic community."
He also states:
"The interaction of the professors among each other, as well as with the students, was easy-going and comfortable, only temporarily, during examinations, for instance, taking on a more serious note."