Paul Karrer was a Swiss Organic Chemist who synthesized various Vitamins and derived their structural formulas for which he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1937 along with Norman Haworth. He also worked on vegetable dyes. He constituted the carotenoids (yellow plant pigments), flavins, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin K. He never drove or owned a car and did not consider leaving the University of Zurich, from where he graduated, and had his entire career there irrespective of several offers from various universities across the world.
Childhood & Early Life
Paul Karrer was born in Moscow, Russia to Paul Karrer and Judi Lerch Karrer, both Swiss nationals on 21st April 1889. His father was a Dentist.
In 1892, the family returned to Switzerland, where Karrer did his schooling at Lenzburg, Aarau.
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Paul Karrer studied Chemistry at the University of Zurich under Alfred Werner and received his Ph.D in 1911. He worked as an Assistant with his professor for another year there.
He began an independent study of organic arsenic compounds and because of his further interest, went to Frankfurt, Germany, in 1912 to work with Paul Ehrlich, the famous German Drug Chemist and was there for six years.
In 1918, he returned to Zurich, where he was appointed a reader at the University of Zurich and in 1919, he became Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Chemical Institute there.
During 1920s he confined his studies mainly to the pigments of plants and natural products. In 1930s he solved the structures of Carotene and Lycopene which was a puzzle since long.
Karrer was very interested in Plant pigments and as he investigated the properties of Carotenoids, he came to know that one of its variants, beta-carotene, has a structure very similar to Vitamin A, also known as retinol, present in the eye. Lack of Vitamin A causes Night Blindness. By 1930, he deduced that beta-carotene is indeed converted to Vitamin A in animal bodies and came forth with its structure.
He synthesized Vitamin A (retinol) in 1931, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) in 1935, Vitamin E (tocopherol) in 1938 and Vitamin K (phytonadione) in 1939. His lifetimeâ€™s research also covered Vitamin E and Vitamin B complex.
In 1942, Karrer contributed greatly to the understanding of the structure and function of Nicotine-amide-adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a coenzyme essential for the transfer of electrons in the energy system of the cell.
In 1950, he accomplished the total synthesis of carotenoids and retired in 1959.
Awards & Achievements
He received the prestigious Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1937 for his work on Carotenoids, flavins and Vitamins A and B2. He shared the prize with Walter Norman Haworth for his work in Vitamin C and Carbohydrates.
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Dr. Karrer was given honorary degrees by Universities in Basel, Breslau, Lousanne, Zurich, Lyons, Paris, Sofia, London, Turin, Brussels, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Strasbourg.
Apart from Nobel Prize, he also won Marcel Benoist Prize and Cannizzaro prize, which are also major awards in the field of Chemistry.
His textbook â€˜Lehrbuch der Organischen Chemieâ€™ (Textbook of Organic Chemistry) was published in 1927, and went through 13 editions and was published in 7 languages.
In his career, he published over 1000 research papers concerning Vitamins A, B2, C and E, coenzymes, carotenoids and other plant pigments, alkaloids, amino acids, carbohydrates and organo-arsenic compounds.
Karrer was the president of the 14th International Congress on Pure and Applied Chemistry (Zurich, 1955).
He was honorary member of several chemical and bio chemical societies across the world including Academie des Sciences (Paris), Royal Society (London), National Academy of Science (Washington), Royal Academy of Sciences (Stockholm), the National Academy (Rome), Royal Academy of Belgium, the Indian Academy of Science, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences and the chemical societies of Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, India and Austria.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was married to Helena Froelich in 1914. They had 2 sons.
He died at the age of 82 on June 18, 1971 in Zurich. His wife died in 1972.
The prestigious Paul Karrer Gold Medal was established in his honor in 1959 by a group of leading companies in this field such as CIBA AG, J. R. Geigy, F. Hoffman la Roche & Co. AG, Sandoz AG, Societe des Produits Nestle AG and Dr. A. Wander AG. It is awarded annually or biannually to an outstanding Chemist who delivers a lecture at the University of Zurich.