Sunday, April 6, 2014

Feodor Lynen

Feodor Felix Konrad Lynen was born on April 6, 1911 in Munich, Germany. His father, Wilhelm Lynen, was a professor of mechanical engineering and his mother, Frieda, was the daughter of an industrialist. Lynen completed his primary and secondary education in Munich and attended Munich University studying chemistry. He completed his Ph.D. in 1937 with a dissertation identifying the toxic substance in amanita mushrooms. After graduation Lynen remained at Munich University becoming a chemistry lecturer in 1942, an assistant professor in 1947, and biochemistry professor in 1953. When World War II broke out Lynen was exempt because of injuries he sustained in a skiing accident. In 1956 he became director of the Max Plank institute for Cellular Chemistry.

Lynen's research dealt with determining the biochemical pathways by which cells produce fatty acids and sterols. Working with Konrad Bloch, he discovered the pathway by which cholesterol is synthesized. Later he determined the structure of acytel-coenzyme A. Acetyl-CoA is an important biochemical intermediate. It feeds two carbon acetic acid fragments from glycolysis (the initial steps by which cells break down glucose) into the citric acid cycle to generate cellular energy. It also is the basis of fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis using the two carbon acetate to build longer carbon chains to store energy or produce bigger carbon molecules. For their work Lynen and Bloch were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1964.

Other awards won by Lynen include the Grand Cross of Merit with Star and Sash of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1965, Norman Medal of the German Society for Fat Research in 1967, the Pour le mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste in 1971, and the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 1972.

Lynen died on August 6, 1979.


Kresge, Nichole, Simoni, Robert D., and Hill, Robert L.; "Biotin Dependent Enzymes: the Work of Feodor Lynen"; Journal of Biological Chemistry (2009)284:e6-e7

Feodor Lynen Nobel Biography

Feodor Lynen Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Martinus Beijernick

Martinus Willem Beijernick was born on March 16, 1851 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Beijernick's father's tobacco business also failed that year and the family moved to Naarden, where he found work as a clerk working for the Holland Railway Company. Due to the family's financial situation Beijernick was educated by his father until he was 12 when he went to elementary school and then secondary school in Haarlem. With the encouragement of his science teacher Beijernick developed an interest in botany and at 15 he won a prize for his collection of plant samples that included 150 different species.

With the help of his family, Beijernick entered Delft Polytechnical Academy and although he studied chemistry his main interest remained botany. While there he met J. H. Van Hoft who he remained friendly throughout his career and served as an adviser to Beijernick. Beijernick earned a bachelors in chemical engineering in 1872 and then when to the University of Leiden where he earned his doctorate in 1877. While working on his doctorate Beijernick taught, but he was a poor teacher who berated his students for wrong answers and he did not remain in one teaching position for long. In 1885 Beijernick became a microbiologist at the Netherlands Yeast and Alcohol Manufactory in Delft. In 1895 he established the School of Microbiology at Delft Polytechnical.

Beijernick was unique among microbiologists at the time in that he researched the microorganisms that affected plants rather than those that affect humans. He was the first to discover that viruses were smaller than bacteria when he found that he was unable to filter the tobacco mosaic virus unlike bacteria. He was the first to isolate a sulfate reducing bacteria, the first microorganism that did not use carbon as a source of nutrition. He was also the first to isolate bacteria that complete nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen gas makes up 78% of the atmosphere but because the nitrogen-nitrogen bond is so stable nitrogen gas does not react with other atoms. Nitrogen fixating bacteria reduce nitrogen gas to become ammonia, which can react with other atoms and is used by plants as a nitrogen source. This is an important source of nitrogen, that is used to make amino acids, which are used to synthesize proteins by living organisms.

Beijernick retired in 1921 and died on  January 1, 1931.


Chung, King-Thom and Ferris, Dean Hunter; "Martinus Willem Beijernick (1851-1931) Pioneer of General Microbiology"; ASM News (1996)62:539-543

Johnson, James; "Martinus Willem Beijernick: 1851-1931"; retrieved from

Martinus Beijernick Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, March 9, 2014

David Fabricius

David Fabricius (the Latinization of David Farber or David Goldschmidt) was born on March 8, 1564 in Essens, Frisia, which now is part of Germany. Fabricius attended Latin school in Braunschweig and attended the University of Helmstedt where he studied theology. Fabricius was a Lutheran minister and served as a pastor in towns in Frisia (now northeast Netherlands and northwest Germany). In addition to being a pastor Fabricus was an astronomer.

Fabricius is most remembered for being the first to observe a variable star, the variable star later named Mira. A variable star is a star whose brightness, as observed from earth, changes over time. Fabricus first observed the variable star in 1596 and watched it first brighten and then disappear over the course of three weeks. At first Fabricus believed he had observed a nova (a dying star, which shines brightly then disappears) but when the star reappeared he realized that it was a star that changed it's brightness over time. This observation was largely forgotten until the mid 1600s when it was rediscovered by Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius and French astronomer Ismail Bouillaud. It was Bouillaud who determined that the star had a period of 333 days. The fact that there was an star that changed it's brightness over time was revolutionary and contradicted the Aristotelian idea that the heavens are unchanging that was church doctrine at the time.

Fabricius' oldest son, Johannes, was also an astronomer and the pair used a camera obscura so that they could observe the sun and were the first to publish the existence of sunspots. From his observations Fabricus correctly predicted the axial rotation of the sun. Fabricus corresponded with Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Kepler used some of Fabricius observations of Mars in constructing his model of the solar system with the sun at the center and the planets orbiting it in elliptical orbits. Fabricius never believed in this model and instead he believed in the Tychoean model with the planets orbiting the sun and the sun, as well as all the stars, orbiting the Earth.

Fabricius was killed on May 7, 1617, by a shovel-wielding parishioner whom he had accused of stealing a goose.


Boner, Patrick J.; "David Fabricius"; in Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers; Springer; 2007

Granada, Miguel A.; "Johannes Kepler and David Fabricius: Their Discussion of the Nova of 1604"; in Change and Continuity in Early Modern Cosmology; Patrick J. Boner, Editor; Springer; 2011

Shiga, David; "Astrophile: The Rebel Star that Broke the Medieval Sky"; New Scientist; October 14, 2011

David Fabricius Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Edward Condon

Edward Uhler Condon was born in Alomogordo, New Mexico on March 2, 1902. His father built railroads and the family moved about the western United States as his work required. Because of his family's movements young Condon attended many different schools. Condon developed an early interest in astronomy, sparked by the 1910 appearance of Haley's Comet and read everything he could on the subject. Later, in high school, he developed an interest in electronics and with the help of his high school physics teacher, William H. Williams, was able to make a number of electrical instruments. After graduating from high school he took a job working as a reporter for the Oakland Enquirer where he reported on labor unions. When his journalism was used to falsely convict labor activists he gave up journalism and went to the University of California at Berkeley to study physical science.

Initially Condon studied chemistry at Berkeley, but when his old high school teacher W. H. Williams took a job in the physics department at Berkeley, Condon switched to physics. Condon excelled in physics, earning his bachelors in three years and then going directly to graduate work, earning his PhD in 1926. For his thesis he outlined what has come to be known as the Franck-Condon Principle. When the elctrons of a molecule are excited the nucleus remains in the same position. The electron will jump up energy levels and then fall back, emitting electromagnetic radiation, but he nuclei of the molecule or atom remains relatively stationary.

At the time an doctorate in physics was not complete without a trip to Germany to study quantum mechanics, which at the time was quickly being discovered. Condon received a National Research Council fellowship and made the trip to Germany in the fall of 1926. While there he studied under Max Born and was soon overwhelmed by the unprecedented pace at which new developments in quantum mechanics were being published. In 1927 he took a job writing popular science for Bell Laboratories. In 1928 he took a position as a lecturer at Columbia University, where he taught graduate level classes on quantum mechanics and electromagnetic radiation. In 1927 Condon took a position as an associate professor of physics at Princeton University. During the years at Princeton Condon co-wrote with Philip M. Morse the first English language treatment of quantum mechanics, published in 1929, and with G.H. Shortly he wrote Theory of Atomic Spectra, a primary text on the subject, published in 1935.

In 1937 Condon became associate research director at the Westinghouse Electric Company, where he brought the company into the nuclear age. He briefly worked on the Manhattan project, but resigned because he disagreed with the reading and censorship of personal letters. Afterward Condon worked at Berkeley on the problem of separating uranium-235 from uranium-238. In 1945 Condon was appointed director of the National Bureau of Standards (now known as the NIST). During his time at the NIST Condon was dogged by questions about his loyalty to his country. In 1951 Condon was forced to testify before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee. The scientific community widely supported Condon and during his troubles with the HUAC Condon was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Condon also served as the president of the American Physical Society. Condon worked as a professor of physics at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri from 1956 to 1963 and at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1963 to 1970. Condon retired in 1970.

Condon died on March 26, 1974.


Branscomb, Lewis; "Edward U. Condon: 1902-1974"; retrieved from library.wustl.ed

Edward U. Condon interviewed by Charles Weiner; retrieved from

Morse, Philip M.: "Edward Uhler Condon: 1902-1974"; from Biorgraphical Memoirs; National Academy Press;

Edward Condon Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Anselme Payen

Anselme Payen was born on January 6, 1795 in Paris France. His father was an entrepreneur who had started several chemical production plants. Payen studied chemistry with his father starting when he was 13. Wanting to keep him out of the Napoleonic army Payen's father sent him to the Ecole Polytechnique where he studied under Louis Nicolas Vaquelin and Michel Eugene Chevreul.  At age 23 he took over management over a borax factory owned by his father. At the time the Dutch had a monopoly on the borax market importing it from the East Indies. Payen developed a method to neutralize boric acid with sodium bicarbonate that produced borax at a third of the cost of the Dutch import, effectively ending their monopoly.

Five years later Payen was investigating the refining of sugar from sugar beets and he developed a process to whiten the sugar using charcoal. Charcoal is sometimes used in gas masks because it absorbs organic gasses. In 1883 he discovered a chemical, extracted from malt extract, that catalyzed the conversion of starch to sugar. He called this chemical diastase (its now called amylase) and it was the first time an enzyme had been isolated. Peyen coined the -ase ending used to name enzymes and the -ose ending used to name carbohydrates.

Payen went on to study different plants and discovered that they all were composed of a substance, similar to starch in that it was made of carbohydrates, which he named cellulose. Payen wrote a series of papers on cellulose which were published by the French Academie. Payen also studied plant anatomy and the distribution of nitrogen in plant material. He found that that nitrogen accumulates in regions where growth is occurring.

Payen was awarded a prize by the Academie Des Sciences in experimental physiology in 1839 for his work on starch. The Anselme Payen Award is given annually by the cellulose and renewable materials division of the American Chemical Society.

During the siege of Paris of the Franco-Prussian war Payen defiantly remained in Paris. He tried various chemical means of producing food from excess materials. He died on May 12, 1871,


Anon.; "Ansleme Payen Biography (1795-1871)"; retrieved from

Wisniak, Jaime; "Anselem Payen"; Educacion Quimica (2005)16:568-580

Anselem Payen Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Carl Ludwig

Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig was born on December 29, 1816 in Gottingen, Germany. His father had been on officer in the Napoleonic Wars. Ludwig graduated high school in 1834 and started his medical studies at the University of Marburg. He was relegated from the university because of his political activities and he continued his medical studies at the University of Erlangen and at the School of Surgery at Bamberg. He returned to Marburg in 1839 and finished his medical doctorate in 1840. After graduation he worked in the laboratory of Robert Bunsen and as a prosector in the school of anatomy at the University of Marburg. In 1846 he was appointed professor extrordinary in anatomy at Marburg and in 1849 he was appointed professor of anatomy at the University of Zurich. Six years later he went to Vienna and and an appointment teaching at the Josephinium, a school for military surgeons. In 1865 he took a position at the newly created department of physiology at the University of Leipzig. In 1869 he was called to develop and be the director of the newly created physiological institute at Leipzig that would eventually be named after him. He remained there until his death.

Ludwig's research dealt with the circulation of fluids in the body. His first paper, published in 1842, described the circulation of blood in the kidney and was the first to describe the function of the glomerulus. He also investigated blood pressure and designed an instrument to measure and record it. His investigations also included secretory glands and lymph circulation. More important than any of his research results it was his methods that had a lasting impact on the study of physiology. Up until the time of Ludwig physiological research involved the belief in vital forces, forces generated by the body that sometimes went against physical law. Ludwig's insight was that the forces of physics and chemistry played a important role in physiological processes and his methods sought to show how these natural processes affected physiological systems. For his insights and use of methods he is often called the father of modern physiology.

Honors won by Ludwig include the Copley Medal in 1884, given by the Royal Society of London and foreign membership in the Royal Swedish Academy of Science in 1869.

Ludwig died on April 23, 1895.


Zimmer, Heinz-Gerd; "Carl Ludwig"; retrieved from

"Carl Ludwig" in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Carl Ludwig Wikipedia Entry

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Grote Reber

Grote Reber was born on December 22, 1911 in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Illinois. His father was a lawyer and the part owner of a canning factory. He died when Reber was 21. His mother was an middle school teacher and had among her students Edwin Hubble, who her son would later discuss cosmology with. Reber earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1933. Reber excelled at mathematics and electronics and after graduation he worked a series of jobs at Chicago area radio manufacturers.

In his spare time Reber was an amateur radio enthusiast and after contacting 150 countries with his radio he was looking for a new challenge. He read about Karl Jansky who had discovered cosmic radio emissions coming from the region of the constellation Sagittarius. Reber took the summer of from his engineering job and used $2000 of his own money (the equivalent of  his annual salary) to build a 32 foot parabolic radio radio antenna in the vacant lot next to his mother's house. After series of failures in 1939 Reber was able to detect galactic radio emissions and used his antenna to make maps of the radio emissions from the sky. Reber was forced to make his observations during the night and early morning hours due to interference from automotive starters. In 1943 Reber detected radio emissions from the sun.

After his mother died in 1945 Reber accepted a position working for the National Institute of Standards in Washington D.C., but he soon grew frustrated with the growing atmosphere of McCarthyism in the nation's capital. In 1951 he moved to Hawaii, where he researched astronomy and atmospheric physics at an observatory at the top of Haleakala, a volcanic peak on Maui. In 1954 Reber moved to Tasmania, where he could exploit the ionospheric transparency for his studies.

Initially Reber had trouble getting his articles published. Reber was a pioneer in the field of radio astronomy and it took a while for his findings to be accepted. Today radio astronomy is a major field of study. Awards won by Reber include the Cresson Medal given by the Franklin Society and the Bruce Medal awarded by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Ohio State University.

Reber died on December 20, 2002 in Tasmania, Australia, two days before his 91st birthday.


Kellermann, Kenneth; "Grote Reber, 1911-2002"; Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society(2003)35:1472-3

Tyson, Anthony J., "Grote Reber"; Physics Today; August 2003

Grate Reber Wikipedia Entry