Richard R. Ernst

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Richard Robert Ernst is a Swiss chemist, researcher, and teacher. In 1991, he won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his contributions to the development of the method of high resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.” He was born in the town of Winterthur, which was both creative and hardworking. As a child, he was interested in music. But when he was 13, he found out by accident that he loved chemistry and went to college to study it. As a research chemist, he moved to Palo Alto, California, after getting his PhD in physical chemistry from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. There, he worked with an American scientist named Weston Anderson and came up with a way to make NMR techniques much more sensitive. After a few years, he went back to his alma mater in Zürich as a professor and introduced a method that let NMR be used to study larger molecules in high resolution and “two dimensions” than had been possible before. Scientists have been able to learn more about how metal ions, water, and drugs interact with biological molecules because of his important work in the field of nuclear magnetic resonance. It has also helped lay the groundwork for the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as a diagnostic tool in medicine. He is known for a number of inventions and has a lot of patents.

Early years and childhood

On August 14, 1933, Richard R. Ernst was born to Robert Ernst and Irma Brunner in Winterthur, Switzerland, which is a suburb of Zürich. There were two of them. Robert, his father, taught architecture at Winterthur’s technical high school.

Winterthur was a unique mix of creative and practical things to do, which influenced both Richard’s hobbies and his work. He learned to play the violoncello at a young age and became interested in making music.

He did not become interested in chemistry until he was 13. He found a box of chemicals in his family’s attic. The chemicals belonged to his late uncle, a metallurgical engineer who was also interested in chemistry. After that, he started playing with the chemicals and became more and more interested in how they reacted.

He learned more about chemistry by reading all the books he could find at home and in the city library. Soon, he realized that he didn’t want to be a musician but rather a chemist.
After high school, he signed up to study his favorite subject at the well-known Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zürich). But he didn’t like how Chemistry was taught, so he often read more to learn more.

Through books like S. Glasstone’s “Textbook of Physical Chemistry,” he learned about things like the basics of quantum mechanics, spectroscopy, statistical mechanics, and statistical thermodynamics that were not usually taught in school.

Richard Emst’s Career

In 1957, Richard R. Ernst got his high school diploma in chemistry. After a short break to serve in the military, he got his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from ETH Zürich under Professor Hans H. Günthard in 1962.

For his doctoral thesis, he worked with fellow scientist Hans Primas on high-resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), designing and building better NMR spectrometers.

During his year after getting his Ph.D., he did research and taught at ETH Zürich. After college, he decided to look for a job in the industry in the U.S. In 1963, he started working at Varian Associates in Palo Alto, California, as a research scientist.

This was the move that changed the course of his career. At Varian, he met other well-known scientists who were also working in the same field, but they were doing it for business reasons. He wanted to keep researching because he worked with people who thought as he did.

He worked closely with American scientist Weston A. Anderson, and by 1966, the two of them had made a big improvement to NMR spectra by replacing slow sweeps of radio frequencies with short pulses of high intensity. As a result, spectra that were too weak to identify before could now be seen clearly.

This discovery made it possible to study a lot more types of nuclei with less material. During his last years at Varian, from 1966 to 1968, he and his team made a lot of spectroscopy computer programs to help automate experiments and make data processing better.

In 1968, he went back to Zürich to work as a professor at ETH. At the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry, he was in charge of an NMR research group. In 1976, he got a full professorship.

During this time, he made a more refined contribution to the field of NMR spectroscopy. He developed a method that made it possible to analyze larger molecules in two dimensions with higher resolution than was possible before. A single pulse of radiofrequency was changed to a series of pulses by this method.

Scientists could use this method to look at the three-dimensional structures of organic and inorganic compounds, proteins, and other macromolecules, which are large biological molecules. They were also able to study how biological molecules and other substances interact with each other, identify chemical species, and look into how fast chemical reactions happen.

His work also laid the groundwork for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which has become one of the most important diagnostic tools for doctors.

In 1991, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to him. In the same year, he and his colleague Kurt Wüthrich were both given the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize at Columbia University.
He still works at ETH Zurich on his research.

Works of note

In 1966, he and scientist Weston A. Anderson found that NMR techniques, which had only been able to look at a few nuclei before, could be made much more sensitive by replacing slow, sweeping radio waves with short, intense pulses. This discovery made it possible to study a lot more types of nuclei with less material.

Scientists were able to figure out the 3D structure of organic and inorganic compounds, as well as biological macromolecules like proteins after he showed them how to use the “two-dimensional” NMR technique.

They were also able to study how biological molecules interact with things like water, drugs, and other substances. They could also identify chemical species and study how fast chemical reactions happen.

Awards & Achievements

Ernst won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1991 “for his contributions to the development of the method of high resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.”

In 1991, he and his colleague Kurt Wüthrich won the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University for their work on NMR methods that could show both how complex biological molecules behave and how they are put together. In the same year, he also won the Wolf Prize in Chemistry.

In 1992, he won an award for his work in Magnetic Resonance EAS.
He is a member of many international organizations, such as the International Society of Magnetic Resonance, the American Physical Society, the Royal Society of London, the German Academy of Scientists, and the science academies of India and Korea.

He is also on the editorial boards of a number of journals about magnetic resonance, and he has a number of patents for the things he has made.

Personal History and Legacies

Ernst married Magdalena Kielholz on 9 October 1963. The couple has a son named Hans-Martin and two daughters named Anna Magdalena and Katharina Elisabeth. All three of them teach in some way.
He still loves music and is passionate about it in his free time. He also has a lot of Asian art, especially Tibetan scroll paintings, which he loves.

Estimated Net worth

Richard is on the list of the most popular and wealthiest chemists. Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider all say that Richard R. Ernst has a net worth of about $1.5 million.


His nature is to be modest and humble, and he gives most of his scientific success to “external circumstances,” like being in “the right place at the right time.”