Heinrich Otto Wieland was a renowned German scientist who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1927 for his research into the structure of bile acids. His comprehensive knowledge in all fields of chemistry astounds us in these days when scientists tend to specialize from the start. He was arguably one of the last academicians who knew everything there was to know about the subject. He is known as the “Father of Biochemistry” for his numerous groundbreaking discoveries in a variety of fields. Among these, Wieland’s study on bile acid was the most well-known. It not only earned him the Nobel Prize, but it also helped to explain the metabolism and structure of steroids, which aided in the development of a number of medications, including contraceptive pills. However, he avoided the limelight throughout his life, and as a result, few people today recall his name. Arsenical diphenylaminechlorarsine was first synthesized by him. However, because his finding received little attention, it was given the name Adamsite in honor of Roger Adam, who worked on it much later. Heinrich Otto Wieland was also a wonderful person who sacrificed his life to save his Jewish students from the Nazis.
Childhood and Adolescence
Heinrich Otto Wieland was born on June 4, 1877, in Pforzheim, a historic town in the Baden-Württemberg federal state in southwest Germany. The town was famed for its jewelry and watchmaking industries at the time of his birth.
Heinrich’s father, Theodor Wieland, was a gold and silver refinery owner in the town. He also had a degree in chemistry and was a pharmacist. Elise Blum Wieland was his mother’s name. Nothing is known about his early years other than the fact that he attended Stuttgart Technical High School.
He went on to study at the universities of Munich, Berlin, and Stuttgart after that. Finally, he returned to Munich to work on his doctoral thesis with Johannes Thiele at Baeyer Laboratory. In 1901, he got his Ph.D., and in 1904, he completed his habilitation.
The Career of Wieland
Wieland began his academic career at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University in 1904. He was hired as a consultant at Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, a pharmaceutical business based in Ingelheim am Rhein, in 1907, but he continued to teach and do research at the University.
Wieland discovered in 1911 that distinct types of nitrogen in organic compounds could be detected and distinguished. This finding is regarded as one of the most significant in the history of structured organic chemistry.
He next turned his attention to bile acids, which are produced by our liver, and published his first study on the subject in 1912. He worked on the subject for another two decades, and the last paper was published in 1932.
Wieland was appointed Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich in 1913. After that, in 1915, he became an advisor at Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, where he established the company’s first scientific department.
In 1915, he was also able to synthesize arsenical diphenylaminechlorarsine, an organic molecule that may be utilized as a riot-control agent. Unfortunately, his discovery received little attention. It was eventually given the name Adamsite after Roger Adam, who discovered it on his own in 1918 at the University of Illinois in the United States.
He was promoted to full professor at the Technical University of Munich in 1917. He’s currently working out of the Technical College, which is near to the University. He was also named Director of the State Laboratory’s Organic Division.
Wieland was assigned to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (KWI) for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry in Dahlem shortly after starting his new job. Scientists at KWI were very active at the time. Under Fritz Haber, the Father of Chemical Warfare, in war research.
He was primarily responsible for developing a synthetic approach to sulfur mustard, also known as mustard gas. It’s a cytotoxic substance that can cause huge blisters on exposed skin and in the lungs. However, the conflict came to an end before he could complete his mission.
In 1918, Wieland returned to the Technical University of Munich to resume his teaching and research career. He soon received a call from Freiburg’s Albert Ludwig University, a public research university in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg.
In 1921, Wieland became the successor to Ludwig Gattermann at the University of Freiburg. He continued his studies on bile acids while also focusing on a variety of other areas, including toad poison and synthetic alkaloids like morphine and strychnine.
In 1925, he enrolled at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) at the suggestion of Richard Willstätter, who had resigned from his employment in protest of Germany’s anti-Semitic environment. Wieland was now given the position of Chair. He held that job until 1950 when he retired.
Wieland was the head of the Chemical Laboratory at LMU, also known as the University of Munich, for twenty-five years. He completed his research on bile acid during this time, earning him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1927, years before completing his studies on the issue.
Heinrich von Wieland was a great researcher who published over 400 papers on a wide range of topics in organic chemistry and biochemistry. He was a wonderful human being and a caring teacher at the same time.
When the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, Wieland assisted many of his Jewish students in emigrating to the United States. He forced them to take their exams at his house and then marked their papers as passed. He also provided them a recommendation letter and some money from his own pocket before telling them to leave.
Those who were unable to flee were taken in as ‘Gäste des Geheimrats’ and housed in his laboratory (guests of the privy councilor). He emphasized that having these students with him was critical to continuing his studies. His judgment was not overruled because he had become a well-known scientist by that time.
However, beginning in 1938, when the situation became increasingly dangerous, he began hiding his Jewish students in cellars and storage rooms. His laboratory was under observation because of his anti-Nazi position, but he refused to change his mind.
Despite the circumstances, Wieland maintained his investigation. He discovered the toxin alpha-amanitin in 1941. It’s the main active ingredient in Amanita phalloides, one of the most toxic mushrooms on the planet.
His Major Projects
Heinrich von Wieland is most known for his studies of bile acid’s molecular structure. He identified three acids: cholic acid, deoxycholic acid, and lithocholic acid, all in 1911. Later, he demonstrated that they were similar-structured steroids linked to cholesterol.
He was also fascinated by oxidation mechanisms in live cells. He discovered that the process includes dehydrogenation, which involves withdrawing hydrogen atoms from the cell rather than adding oxygen, after conducting a significant investigation.
His work on organic nitrogen molecules like nitrogen oxides is particularly noteworthy. He created the first stable organic nitrogen radicals, such as diphenyl nitrogen and its N-oxide. His work in this area made a fundamental contribution to the development of organic radical chemistry.
His studies also contributed to the understanding of the structures of morphine and strychnine. He also helped to develop and synthesize the lobelia alkaloid, as well as research into the curare alkaloid.
Achievements & Awards
“For his discoveries of the constitution of the bile acids and related compounds,” Wieland won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1927.
He and Austrian physicist Lise Meitner shared the Otto Hahn Prize for Chemistry and Physics in 1955. The German Chemical Society, the German Physical Society, and the city of Frankfurt am Main jointly awarded the medal.
Personal History and Legacy
Wieland married Josephine Bartmann Wieland in 1908. Three sons and one daughter were born to the marriage. Wolfgang Wieland, his eldest son, was a doctor of pharmaceutical chemistry, Theodor Wieland, his second son, was a chemistry professor, and Otto Wieland, his third son, was a medicine professor. Eva Wieland Lynen, his daughter, married Nobel Laureate Feodor Lynen, a German biochemist.
Wieland died of natural causes in Starnberg on August 5, 1957. At the time of his death, he was a few months shy of eighty years old.
The Heinrich Wieland Prize was established in his honor by Margarine Institute in 1963 to stimulate lipid research. However, Boehringer Ingelheim began sponsoring the prize in 2000, and it now covers a broader range of disciplines.
Wieland’s Nobel Medal from 1927 was auctioned in April 2015. It only attracted one offer, for a princely sum of $395,000. It is, by the way, the only Nobel Prize in Chemistry that has ever been auctioned.
Estimated Net worth
Heinrich Otto Wieland has a net worth of $ USD 7 million and is a primary source of income as a university professor and chemist.