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1902 Fischer- Nobel lecture

1902 Fischer- Nobel lecture - EMIL FISCHER Syntheses in the...

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E MIL F ISCHER Syntheses in the purine and sugar group Nobel Lecture, December 12, 1902 Although I am pleased to accept the honouring invitation of the Royal Swed- ish Academy of Sciences to report on my work to such a select audience, yet I cannot suppress certain misgivings as to the form and theme of my lec- ture; in its practical achievements my science, chemistry, is indubitably very popular, but is anything but popular in its methods, abstractions and language. I must therefore ask you to accept what I have to offer with the kind for- bearance which this hospitable country willingly grants every foreigner. The abundance of substances of which animals and plants are composed, the remarkable processes whereby they are formed and then broken down again have claimed the attention of mankind of old, and hence from the early days they also persistently captivated the interest of chemists. Yet note- worthy successes were not achieved by science in this most difficult field un- til the 18th century when men like Sigismund Marggraf in Berlin, Lavoisier in Paris and this country’s great son, Carl Wilhelm Scheele studied it. But even then the study of those substances seemed so difficult and necessitated such unusual methods that it was resolved at the beginning of the 19th century to separate it altogether from mineral chemistry and carry it on as a special branch of our science. Strange to relate, organic chemistry, as the new discipline was termed, did not remain for long within its original terms of reference. It found the ex- ploration of new avenues more worthwhile. It replaced the animal and vege- table substances by many artificial products such as the hydrocarbons and cyano compounds, wood tar and coal tar, wood alcohol, etc. and by pressing into its service the synthetic methods of inorganic chemistry it appropriated the fundamental problems of our science at the same time. Wöhler’s famous synthesis of urea in 1828 was the starting-point for the glorious evolution which for many decennia gave organic chemistry a leading part in the development of chemical theories. But this era seems to be drawing to a close. The almost obvious view that the one-sided study of carbon compounds cannot suffice to elucidate the na- ture of chemical processes in all its aspects has again won some measure of ac-
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22 1902 E.FISCHER ceptance, and general chemistry, in closer association with physics, has been diverted back into the paths which it was following at the beginning of the 19th century under the guidance of Berzelius, Gay-Lussac and Davy. A necessary consequence of this reorientation must be the reversion of organic chemistry to the great problems of biology. I shall attempt to explain to you with the aid of two examples, the purines and the carbohydrates, what organic chemistry is capable of as the loyal ally of physiology with refined methods of analysis and synthesis.
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