Sunday, June 23, 2013
Winlicenus' research was in organic chemistry. Starting in 1868 he began studying lactic acid. Lactic acid is a carboxylic acid that is a metabolite of glucose. In his studies he found that there were two types of lactic acid which had different chemical properties. While these two chemicals have the same chemical formula (the same numbers and types of atoms) they have different structures. In the case of lactic acid (a three carbon long carboxylic acid) one form has a hydroxyl group attached to the carbon adjacent to the carbonyl carbon and the other form has a hydroxyl group attached to the terminal carbon, the carbon on the opposite end of the three carbon chain from the carbonyl. Because these two molecules have different structures they have different properties, but the formulas for both compounds are both C3H6O3. Winlicenus called these chemicals with the same formula but different structures structural isomers.
Another important experiment carried out by Winlicenus, working in collaboration with his friend Aldolf Fick a professor of physiology at the University of Zurich, showed that carbohydrates and fats were the principal source of muscular energy. The pair ascended the Faulhorn, taking with them only food from which proteins had been excluded. While they climbed the pair monitored their nitrogen metabolism and found that the the break down of proteins accounted for less than one third of the energy generated by their metabolism.
Wislicenus was elected a foreign member of the British Royal Chemical Society in 1888 and member of the Royal Society of London in 1897 which presented him with its Davy Medal in the following year.
Winlicenus died on December 5, 1902.
P.F.F.; "Johannes Wislicenus. 1835-1902"; Proceedings of the Royal Society (1907) 78:iii-xii
Ramberg, Peter J.; Chemical Structure, Spatial Arrangement: An Early History of Stereochemistry. 1874-1914; Ashgate Publishing Ltd.; 2003
"Johannes Wislicenus, Biography", retrieved from: my.rsc.org
Johannes Wislicenus Wikipedia Entry