Robert F. Furchgott Biography

Robert F. Furchgott was an American Nobel laureate who discovered that nitric oxide (NO) acts as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Robert F. Furchgott
Quick Facts

Birthday: June 4, 1916

Nationality: American

Famous: Biochemists American Men

Died At Age: 92

Sun Sign: Gemini

Also Known As: Robert Francis Furchgott

Born in: Charleston, South Carolina

Famous as: Biochemist


Spouse/Ex-: Lenore Mandelbaum (1941–1983; her death), Margaret Gallagher Roth (?–2006; her death)

father: Arthur Furchgott

mother: Pena Furchgott

Died on: May 19, 2009

place of death: Seattle, Washington

U.S. State: South Carolina

More Facts

awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1998

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Robert F. Furchgott was an American biochemist who discovered that nitric oxide (NO) acts as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system of mammals. This discovery earned him a share of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with several other prestigious awards and recognitions. The son of a department store owner, he spent many years of his youth in small towns where he developed a love for nature and sciences. As a boy, he loved visiting beaches, marshes and woods, and was an avid bird watcher. From a young age there was no doubt in his mind that he was meant to become a scientist and his parents’ encouragement further fuelled his ambitions. After completing a degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he proceeded to earn his doctorate in biochemistry from Northwestern University. He taught and researched at Cornell and Washington Universities for several years before joining the SUNY-Brooklyn’s department of pharmacology in 1956 from where he retired after more than three decades. Over the course of his research he primarily studied the mechanism of drug interaction with the receptors in blood vessels. Experimenting with rabbits, he also developed a method for determining how blood vessels respond to medications, neurotransmitters and hormones.

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Robert F. Furchgott
Childhood & Early Life
  • Robert Francis Furchgott was born on June 4, 1916, in Charleston, South Carolina, to Arthur Furchgott and Pena (Sorentrue) Furchgott. His father was a department store owner.
  • Growing up in a rural town, the young boy developed a love for nature. He would often visit nearby beaches, marshes and woods on field trips organized by the local Museum. In 1929, his family shifted from Charleston to Orangeburg where he spent his high school years.
  • He decided to become a scientist during his high school years. His parents encouraged him and gave him chemistry sets and a small microscope as presents. He finished high school in 1933.
  • He proceeded to complete a degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1937 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Northwestern University in 1940.
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  • After completing his doctorate he was offered a postdoctoral position at the Cornell University Medical School in New York City in the laboratory of Dr. Ephraim Shorr, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the institute.
  • He worked and researched at Cornell from 1940 to 1949 when he left to accept an assistant professorship in pharmacology at Washington University School of Medicine. The 1950s marked an exciting period for him as he researched on the energy-metabolism and function of rabbit intestinal smooth muscle.
  • His further research shifted to the rabbit thoracic aorta from the intestine and he developed a method for determining how blood vessels respond to medications, neurotransmitters and hormones. By 1953, he had published a paper titled ‘Reactions of strips of rabbit aorta to epinephrine, isoproterenol, sodium nitrite and other drugs.’
  • In 1956, Furchgott became the chairman of the new Department of Pharmacology at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Medicine at New York City. There he performed vital research on photorelaxation of blood vessels, factors influencing contractility of cardiac muscle, peripheral adrenergic mechanisms, and receptor theory and mechanisms.
  • In 1980 he demonstrated that blood vessels widen because their linings produce a molecule to tell the vessels’ smooth muscle cells to relax. Following a few years of intensive research, he pinpointed the relaxing factor as nitric oxide (NO). He presented his findings in a symposium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in 1986.
  • He retired as professor from SUNY in 1989 and became an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida. He continued his research work even after retirement.
Major Works
  • He is known for his research with nitric oxide (NO) which led to the discovery that NO acts as a signaling molecule in the mammalian cardiovascular system which is one of the most important discoveries in the history of cardiovascular medicine. His work also paved the way for further research which led to the development of Viagra, the anti-impotency drug.
Awards & Achievements
  • Furchgott was the recipient of several prestigious awards including Roussel-Uclaf Prize for Research in Signal Transduction (1993) and Wellcome Gold Medal, British Pharmacological Society (1995).
  • In 1996, Furchgott and Ferid Murad were awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.
  • Robert F. Furchgott along with Louis J. Ignarro and Ferid Murad was awarded jointly the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1998 "for their discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system."
Personal Life & Legacy
  • His first marriage was to Lenore Mandelbaum in 1941 with whom he had three children. His wife died in 1983 after more than four decades of marriage.
  • He second marriage was to Margaret Gallagher Roth. They remained together till her death in 2006.
  • Robert F. Furchgott lived a long life and died on May 19, 2009, at the age of 92.

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- Robert F. Furchgott Biography
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Last Updated
- October 16, 2017

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