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Konrad E. Bloch

Konrad Bloch

CHF Collections

  • Born: January 21, 1912, Neisse, Germany
  • Died: October 15, 2000, Burlington, Massachusetts

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0109
Interview Date: March 22, 1993
Location: Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 74
Minutes: 283
Sponsor: American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

  Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Konrad E. Bloch describing his childhood in Neisse, Germany, and his undergraduate education at Technische Hochschule in Munich. During a research assistantship in Davos, Switzerland, Bloch had his first encounter with the cholesterol molecule. He also produced and published three papers that Columbia University later accepted as partial fulfillment for a Ph.D. in biochemistry, which he earned in 1938. Bloch describes his teaching and research in biochemistry at Columbia and later at the University of Chicago, where he developed an interest in the mechanism of protein synthesis from amino acids. Throughout his career, Bloch's primary research interest was the biosynthesis of cholesterol. In 1954, he became Higgins Professor of Biochemistry at Harvard University and served as Chemistry Department Chairman for three years. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology with Feodor Lynen in 1964 for his work on cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. Shortly before his retirement, he was appointed Professor of Science at the Harvard School of Public Health. Bloch closes the interview with some comments on nutrition research, blondes in Venetian Renaissance Art, the difference between biochemistry, molecular biology, and the Human Genome Project.


1934 Chemical Engineering, Technisches Hochschule, Munich
1938 Ph.D., Biochemistry, Columbia University

  Professional Experience

Schweizerisches Höhenforschung's Institute, Davos, Switzerland

1934 - 1935 Research Assistant

Columbia University

1939 - 1946 Instructor, Department of Biochemistry

University of Chicago

1946 - 1950

Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry

University of Chicago

1950 - 1954

Professor, Department of Biochemistry

Harvard University

1954 - 1982 Higgins Professor of Biochemistry

Harvard University

1968 - 1971 Chairman, Department of Chemistry

Harvard University

1979 - 1984 Professor of Science, School of Public Health

Harvard University

1982 Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, Emeritus

University of Oxford

1982 Newton-Abraham Visiting Professor


1953 Guggenheim Fellow, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich, Switzerland
1956 Member, National Academy of Sciences
1958 Medal, Société de Chemie Biologique
1961 Guggenheim Fellow, Imperial College, London, England
1964 Fritzsche Award, American Chemical Society
1964 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology
1964 Distinguished Service Award, University of Chicago School of Medicine
1965 Centennial Science Award, University of Notre Dame
1965 Cardano Medal, Lombardy Academy of Sciences
1966 Honorary Member, Lombardy Academy of Sciences
1966 Honorary Degree, University of Uruguay
1966 Honorary Degree, University of Brazil
1966 Honorary Degree, University of Nancy
1966 Member, American Philosophical Society
1967 Honorary Degree, Columbia University
1968 William Lloyd Evans Award, Ohio State University
1968 Honorary Degree, Technische Hochschule, Muenchen
1968 Guggenheim Fellow, Harvard University
1970 Honorary Degree, Brandeis University
1971 Honorary Member, Phi Lambda Upsilon
1976 Honorary Member, Japanese Biochemical Society
1976 Corresponding Member, Bavarian Academy of Sciences
1976 Honorary Degree, Hokkaido University
1977 Foreign Member, Accademia Pattaviana
1985 Foreign Member, Royal Society, London
1987 Award for Excellence, Columbia University

National Medal of Science

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education in Neisse 1

Family background. Effects of World War I on family. Secondary school at Realgymnasium. Bar Mitzvah.

Education in Munich 6

Reason for selecting Technische Hochschule. Speakers at Munich Chemical Society and decision to study organic chemistry. Art classes at the university.

Research Assistantship in Davos, Switzerland 8

Influence of Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Lecture by Kögl. Rejection for graduate study by Kögl and Butenandt. Reasons for wanting to go to United States. Wife's family background and career. First research project isolating phosphatidic acid. First awareness of cholesterol molecule. Rudolf Schoenheimer. How lipids become major interest.

Doctoral Studies at Columbia University 17

Acceptance of three publications for Ph.D. degree. Crystallization of N-methylcysteine monohydrochloride. Brief employment at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Nitrogen-15 research. Introduction to biochemistry. Initial interest in biosynthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids.

University of Chicago 25

Reasons for moving from New York. Development of interest in mechanism of protein synthesis from amino acids. Discovery of acyl-CoA. Competion with Lynen, work leading to Nobel Prize.

Harvard University 31

Change in teaching style. Reasons for leaving Chicago. Channon paper on squalene. Shark hunting and research in Bermuda. Research with Leopole Ruzicka at ETH Zürich. Reaction to Nobel Prize. Refusal of offer to become first biochemistry professor at ETH. Chairmanship of Chemistry Department. Appointment at School of Public Health.

Later Research Interests 38

Nutrition. Role of oxygen in metabolism and evolution. "Aqua bionde" phenomenon in Venetian painting. Views of difference between biochemistry and molecular biology and The Human Genome Project.

Notes 50

Index 53

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and has presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was the foundation’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

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