Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Gustav Embden, a Model Mentor

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Gustav Embden, a Model Mentor

Article excerpt

Gerhard did not have to spend a full year of internship in Stuttgart. An intern was allowed three months of elective training, which could even be laboratory training, and for that reason he returned, in 1925, to Embden and Frankfurt, where he also continued with research needed for his medical-degree thesis. Embden arranged for him a small fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. Furthermore, on Gerhard's first visit to his office on returning from Stuttgart, Embden said to him: "You have a fellowship but it's not enough that you can even rent a decent room. With that, would you mind getting a room in the department?" Gerhard quickly accepted the offer. Embden immediately picked up the phone, called the administrator of the hospital and asked him to prepare a room and have in place, by that evening, a bed and night table, bookshelf and linens. Gerhard was indelibly impressed with the fact that, without having to fill out forms or get permission, Professor Embden was able, in a few minutes, to save Gerhard the expense of renting a room. On the downside, the room was in the basement and it had an ice chest, the only cooling facility in the department, and it was right next to the frog room. "There were about three hundred of them. You can imagine in the spring ... a tremendous concert every evening."

Embden's sensitivity to Gerhard's economic status continued through later stages of the young scientist's training. Even in difficult times, Gerhard managed to accumulate some savings so he could undertake a hiking trip into the Swiss Alps during his summer vacation. One summer, as Gerhard was taking his leave, "Embden asked: 'Going again to Switzerland? ... You work quite hard. I think you deserve having a good time in Switzerland.' He gave me 200 marks, from some funds of the department, to spend for my vacation." Gerhard recalled that Embden had some discretionary funds even though fellowships were small and life was generally austere in Germany, while the country was paying World War I reparations stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles. Embden had a large laboratory, built by the University of Frankfurt, which received generous contributions from private sources.

From the beginning of their relationship, Gerhard considered Embden to be a very special and caring mentor. Years later, he said Embden stood out above every other person with whom he worked in his manner of teaching and consideration of his students' needs.

Gustav Embden, who was 51 years old when Gerhard moved back to Frankfurt to work on his medical-degree thesis in 1925, was a grandnephew of Heinrich Heine and son of a well-known lawyer in Hamburg.1 During and after medical studies, between 1897 and 1904, Embden had received research training in Strassburg with Franz Hofmeister,2 head of the Physiological Chemistry Institute and an early pioneer in metabolic chemistry. Hofmeister trained many outstanding scientists, including Franz Knoop (ß-oxidation of fatty acids), Otto Loewi (urea synthesis and acetylcholine as neurotransmitter), and Alexander Ellinger (pharmacodynamics), as well as Gustav Embden.

In his years in Strassburg, Embden undertook research with liver perfusion, in which he introduced known substances into blood vessels entering the isolated liver and measured their transformations as reflected by analyses of substances in blood vessels leaving the liver. He thereby measured metabolic chemical changes in carbohydrates, amino acids, and fatty acids. The significance of Embden's early research results with this method was noted by Carl von Noorden, hospital director and head of the medical clinic at City Hospital Sachsenhausen in Frankfurt. At von Noorden's invitation, Embden became an assistant in the hospital and its laboratory in Frankfurt in April 1904.

Embden became part of the faculty of the University of Frankfurt in the year of its foundation, 1914. There he established the Division of Vegetative Physiology, to which Gerhard Schmidt came for his research training. …

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