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Albert Eschenmoser

Albert Eschenmoser

CHF Collections

  • Born: August 5, 1925, Erstfeld, Switzerland

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0019
Interview Date: October 7, 1985
Location: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule), Zürich, Switzerland
Interviewer: Tonja A. Koeppel
No. of pages: 41
Minutes: 90

  Abstract of Interview

Albert Eschenmoser begins the interview with a discussion of his early life and education. Born in Switzerland, he attended school in the canton of Uri. At the age of sixteen, he decided that he wanted to become a secondary school teacher, and attended an Oberrealschule in St. Gallen. He received his Maturität in 1944, and continued on to the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (ETH). Eschenmoser was encouraged to pursue chemistry, and-inspired by Leopold Ruzicka-concentrated on organic chemistry. His research focused on sesquiterpene chemistry. In 1949, he earned his diploma, and became a doctoral student under Ruzicka. His doctoral thesis addressed acid-catalyzed cyclization, and in 1951 he received his doctorate. Eschenmoser's research interests then turned to the synthesis of colchicine, which his group accomplished in 1959. Next came vitamin B12 and the corrin ligand system. ETH collaborated with Robert B. Woodward's Harvard research group on this project, and in 1972 they announced the success of the vitamin B12 synthesis. Eschenmoser concludes the interview with a discussion of research funding, his professional recognition, and the ramifications of the vitamin B12 synthesis.


1949 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)
1951, Organic Chemistry, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)

  Professional Experience

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule)

1956 - 1960 Instructor, Organic Chemistry

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule)

1960 - 1965 Associate Professor, Organic Chemistry

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule)

1965 - 1992 Professor, Organic Chemistry

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule)

1992 Professor Emeritus

The Scripps Research Institute

1996 Professor, Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology


1949 Kern Prize, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
1956 Werner Prize, Swiss Chemical Society
1958 Ruzicka Prize, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
1966 Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1966 Honorary Degree, University of Fribourg
1970 Honorary Sc.D., University of Chicago
1973 Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences
1973 Marcel Benoist Prize, Eidgenössiches Departement des Innern, Switzerland
1974 Robert A. Welch Award, Houston
1976 Kirkwood Medal, Yale University
1976 August Wilhelm von Hofmann Medal, Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker
1976 ACS Centennial Foreign Fellow, American Chemical Society
1977 Dannie Heineman Prize, Academy of Sciences, Germany (BRD)
1978 Davy Medal, Royal Society
1979 Honorary Ds.C., University of Edinburgh
1980 Dr. Cliff S. Hamilton Award in Organic Chemistry, Lincoln, Nebraska
1981 Honorary Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry
1981 Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry, Pergamon Press
1982 George Kenner Award, University of Liverpool
1984 Arthur C. Cope Award, American Chemical Society
1986 Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Wolf Foundation
1988 M. M. Janot Medal, Gif-sur-Yvette
1989 Honorary Degree, Univeristy of Bologna
1990 Honorary Degree, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
1991 Honorary Degree, Université Louis Pasteur de Strasbourg
1991 Cothenius Medal, Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina
1993 Honorary Degree, Harvard University
1994 CIBA-Drew Award in Biomedical Research, Drew University
1995 H. H. Inhoffen Medall, Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung
1998 Nakanishi Prize, Chemical Society of Japan

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Early Education 1

Growing up in Uri. Desire to become a teacher. Attending the Oberrealschule in St. Gallen. Influence of parents. Continuing studies at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (ETH).

Chemistry at ETH 3

Decision to pursue chemistry. Focus on organic chemistry. Influence of Leopold Ruzicka. Examinations with Vladimir Prelog. Research with Hans Schinz on sesquiterpene chemistry. Doctoral thesis on acid-catalyzed cyclization. Disproving Ruzicka's structure of zingiberene. Relationship between Ruzicka and Robert B. Woodward.

Synthesis of Natural Products 12

Work on colchicine. Race with Woodward research group. Decision to pursue synthesis of vitamin B12. Importance of corrin ligand system. Development of a model. Collaboration with Woodward group. Impact of Woodward-Hoffmann rules. Announcement of synthesis of vitamin B12. Failure to jointly publish results.

Conclusion 29

Position at ETH. Research funding. Influence of Ruzicka. Awards. Reflections on research.

Notes 35

Index 37

  About the Interviewer

Tonja A. Koeppel

Tonja A. Koeppel received a master's degree in chemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1944. Since then she has written about chemistry, done research, and taught college chemistry. Dr. Koeppel is also a historian of chemistry. In 1973 she earned a Ph.D. degree in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania. She is especially interested in the development of organic chemistry in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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