Hermann Emil Fischer

From New World Encyclopedia

Emil Fischer

Hermann Emil Fischer.jpg
Hermann Emil Fischer

October 9, 1852
Euskirchen, Germany

Died July 15, 1919

Berlin, Germany

Residence Flag of Germany.svg Germany
Nationality Flag of Germany.svg German
Field Chemist
Institutions University of Munich (1875-81)

University of Erlangen (1881-88)
University of W├╝rzburg (1888-92)
University of Berlin (1892-1919)

Alma mater University of Bonn
University of Strassburg
Academic advisor  Adolf von Baeyer
Notable students  Alfred Stock

Otto Diels

Known for Study of sugars & purines
Notable prizes Nobel.svg Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1902)

Hermann Emil Fischer (October 9, 1852 - July 15, 1919), better known as Emil Fischer, was a brilliant German chemist who ushered in the age of biochemistry by clarifying the structure of sugars and enzymes and demonstrating the way in which they are formed. He synthesized many naturally occurring substances for the first time, including glucose, caffeine, and uric acid. He synthesized several amino acids and created small chains of them as precursors to protein formation. He suggested the "lock and key" mechanism to explain how enzymes can catalyze certain reactions but not others. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1902.


Hermann Emil Fischer was born in Euskirchen, Germany, the son of Laurenz Fischer and Julie Poensgen. He was the youngest of five children, and the only male child. Fischer's father was a merchant, and held out the hope that Fischer could enter the business world. But Fischer's aptitude for and interest in scientific subjects was strong enough to pull him away from his father's work.

Student days

Fischer attended the Gymnasium at Bonn, and graduated at top of his class. In 1871, he began his formal studies in chemistry at the University of Bonn, and transferred to Strasbourg the following year where he studied under Adolf von Baeyer. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 1874 for research on coal tar dyes, after which he assumed a professorship at Bonn.

Professional career

Fischer continued to work with Baeyer, moving to Munich with his mentor in 1875 after Baeyer took over the chair from Justus Von Liebig. He continued research on coal tar dyes with a cousin, Otto Philipp Fischer. In 1878, Fischer served as Associate Professor of Analytical Chemistry. Two years later he accepted a professorship at the University of Erlanger. Around this time, he discovered the compound phenylhydrazine, which he subsequently used in his investigation of sugars.

Purine investigations

He then turned his attention to a group of compounds that shared a chemical base. They could all be derived from purine, which Fischer first predicted the existence of and later synthesized in his laboratory. Purine is now known as one of the important components of nucleic acids that carry the hereditary code in plants and animals. At the time, however, Fischer saw the similarity between purine and other chemicals as more important. He was the first to synthesize caffeine, and was able to create over 100 other compounds that belonged to this class, including uric acid.

In 1884, Fischer became ill from exposure to phenylhydrazine, but recovered a year later. In 1888, he married Agnes Gerlach, the daughter of a professor. The couple had three sons.

During the 1890s, Fischer clarified the chemical structure of the naturally occurring sugars glucose, fructose, and mannose, and synthesized them in 1890.

Proteins and amino acids

Did you know?
Nobel Prize winner Emil Fischer suggested the "lock and key" mechanism involving complementary geometric shapes to explain how enzymes catalyze specific reactions

Toward the late 1890s, his work turned toward proteins and amino acids. He synthesized several amino acids, and created small chains of amino acids as precursors to protein formation. He identified the structure that links amino acids in a protein, calling it a "peptide" bond. Fischer also suggested that enzymes are able to catalyze certain biochemical reactions and not others because they fit with the substrate they act on like a "lock" and "key" and are therefore very specific. For these and other discoveries, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1902.

Later career

In his later life, Fischer strengthened the German chemical industry by assisting in the establishment of the Kaiser Wilhelm Socity for the Advancement of Sciences and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry.

During World War I, Fischer was in charge of Germany's chemical operations, and worked on the synthesis of many substances that the nation no longer had access to because of the Allied blockade. He lost two sons during the war, which is said to have resulted in a major upheaval in his emotional life. A third son, Hermann Otto Laurenz Fischer, who died in 1960, was Professor of Biochemistry in the University of California at Berkeley.

Fischer died July 15, 1919, apparently from stomach cancer. The Emil Fischer Memorial Medal was instituted by the German Chemical Society soon after his death. Fischer's son established the Emil Fischer Library at the University of California in 1952.

Major contributions

Monument to Hermann Emil Fischer in Berlin

Many consider Fischer to be the most brilliant chemist who ever lived, as his numerous contributions to science, especially chemistry and biochemistry. Many chemical reactions and concepts are named after him:

  • Fischer indole synthesis
  • Fischer projection
  • Fischer oxazole synthesis
  • Fischer peptide synthesis
  • Fischer phenylhydrazine and oxazone reaction
  • Fischer reduction
  • Fischer-Speier esterification
  • Fischer glycosidation

German Chemical Society medals are named after him.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Asimov, Isaac. 1982. Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. 2nd ed. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0385177712
  • Ferguson, Pamela. 2002. World Book's Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists. 8th ed. Chicago: World Book. ISBN 0716676001
  • Gillispie, Charles Coulston. 1975. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0684101211
  • Von Meyer, Ernst. [1906] 2007. A History of Chemistry. tr. George McGowan. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. ISBN 978-0548590645

External links

All links retrieved June 22, 2023.


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