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Rudolph Signer

  • Born: March 17, 1903, Herisau, Switzerland
  • Died: December 1, 1990

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0056
Interview Date: September 30, 1986
Location: Berne, Switzerland
Interviewer: Tonja A. Koeppel
No. of pages: 41
Minutes: 150

  Abstract of Interview

Rudolf Signer starts this interview by talking about his family background in Herisau. The Kantonschule at St. Gallen emphasized mathematics and the sciences, and there, Signer's youthful interests in astronomy and philosophy were reinforced. Study of chemistry at ETH followed, and Signer recalls some of his professors there. Graduate research on polyoxymethylenes with Staudinger introduced Signer to the young field of polymer chemistry, and he remembers the controversy about Staudinger's macromolecular hypothesis. Moving to Freiburg with Staudinger, Signer set up equipment to measure streaming birefringence, which proved a powerful technique of the solution characterization of polymers. A Rockefeller Fellowship enabled Signer to work with Svedberg at Uppsala and to apply ultracentrifugal sedimentation to synthetic polymers in organic solvents. The rest of that postdoctoral year was spent at Manchester with Bragg, where Rudolf Signer used X-rays for structural investigations. Signer also expounds on his decision to leave Freiburg and on his acceptance of a chair at the University of Berne. The interview includes mention of much research made at Berne, including the isolation and characterization of nucleic acids, water-protein interactions, molecular separation techniques and the thermodynamics of polymer solutions. Signer concludes with recollections of a post-war tour of the United States and of his memories of Staudinger.


1928 Ph.D., Chemistry, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)

  Professional Experience

University of Freiburg

1926 - 1935 Teaching Assistant and Research Fellow

University of Berne

1935 - 1937 Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry

University of Berne

1937 - 1972 Professor of Organic Chemistry


1933 Rockefeller Fellowship, Uppsala and Manchester
1948 Rockefeller Special Fellowship, USA
1949 Lavoisier Medal, La Société Chimique de France

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Zürich, professors at ETH. Photography as a hobby. Graduate work with Staudinger and transfer with him to Freiburg. Research on polyoxymethylenes. Recollections of Staudinger and the macromolecular controversy. Marriage. Start of flow birefringence studies.

University Studies 5

Uppsala and research with Svedberg on sedimentation of macromolecules. X-ray study of hetero poly-acids with Bragg in Manchester.

Rockefeller Fellowship 13

Decision to return to Switzerland. Teaching at Berne, effect of the war. Nucleic acid isolation and characterization. Separation by diffusion. Water sorption on proteins; casein fibers. Electron microscopy. Counter-current distribution. Thermodynamics of polymer-solvent interactions.

University of Berne 18

Hobby of gardening. Reflections on post-war Rockefeller Fellowship to tour the United States. Further recollections of Staudinger.

Retirement 28

Notes 35

Index 38

  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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