The Coil of Life: The Story of the Great Discoveries in the Life Sciences

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

VII
FISCHER AND BUCHNER: ESSENCES OF LIFE

OF ALL THE STUDENTS who flocked to the laboratory of the famed Adolf von Baeyer at the University of Strasbourg, none was surer or more brilliant than tall, bright-eyed Emil Fischer. From the first it was evident that he had come to exactly the right place for him.

Fischer had known when he was in his teens where his interests lay. His father had attempted to get him into the family lumber business, and at seventeen Emil was apprenticed for two years to his brother-in-law. It proved only a slight detour and delay. The business could not have interested Emil Fischer less, and he spent most of his time in a back room carrying on experiments in physics and chemistry.

The young Rhinelander--he was born on October 9, 1852, at Euskirchen near Cologne--was fascinated by laboratories. He also closely followed the great debate that was preoccupying and exciting Europe: does life originate spontaneously or do living things spring only from their own parents? He knew too about the dyes and drugs coming from the new German chemical factories. Although Fischer could only sense that rich opportunities lay ahead, chemistry in fact stood at the opening of one of its brightest eras.

If Fischer was "too stupid" for the lumber business, his father was not reluctant to see him go to the university to study chemistry. The senior Fischer was impressed by the profits being made in the rapidly expanding chemical industry.

In 1871 Fischer enrolled at the University of Bonn to study chemistry with Friedrich Kekule, the discoverer of the struc

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