Konrad E. Bloch

Born: January 21, 1912 | Neisse, DE
Died: Sunday, October 15, 2000 | Burlington, MA, US
Photograph of Konrad Bloch

CHF Collections

Konrad E. Bloch was born and raised in Neisse, Germany, and he studied at Technische Hochschule in Munich for his undergraduate degree. During a research assistantship in Davos, Switzerland, Bloch became aware of the cholesterol molecule for the first time. He also produced and published three papers that Columbia University later accepted as partial fulfillment for a PhD in biochemistry, earned in 1938. Bloch describes his teaching and research in biochemistry at Columbia and later the University of Chicago, where he developed an interest in the mechanism of protein synthesis from amino acids. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology with Feodor Lynen in 1964 for his work on cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0109
No. of pages: 65
Minutes: 283

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
22 March 1993
Harvard University

Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Konrad E. Bloch describing his childhood in Neisse, Germany, and his undergraduate education at Technische Hochschule in Munich. During a research assistantship in Davos, Switzerland, Bloch had his first encounter with the cholesterol molecule. He also produced and published three papers that Columbia University later accepted as partial fulfillment for a PhD in biochemistry, which he earned in 1938. Bloch describes his teaching and research in biochemistry at Columbia and later at the University of Chicago, where he developed an interest in the mechanism of protein synthesis from amino acids. Throughout his career, Bloch's primary research interest was the biosynthesis of cholesterol. In 1954, he became Higgins Professor of Biochemistry at Harvard University and served as Chemistry Department Chairman for three years. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology with Feodor Lynen in 1964 for his work on cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. Shortly before his retirement, he was appointed Professor of Science at the Harvard School of Public Health. Bloch closes the interview with some comments on nutrition research, blondes in Venetian Renaissance Art, the difference between biochemistry, molecular biology, and the Human Genome Project. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1934 Technical University of Munich Chemical Engineering
1938 Columbia University PhD Biochemistry

Professional Experience

Schweizerisches Höhenforschung Institute

1934 to 1935
Research Assistant

Columbia University

1939 to 1946
Instructor, Department of Biochemistry

University of Chicago

1946 to 1950
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
1950 to 1954
Professor, Department of Biochemistry

Harvard University

1954 to 1982
Higgins Professor Biochemistry
1968 to 1971
Chairman, Department of Chemistry
1979 to 1984
Professor of Science, School of Public Health
1982 to 1994
Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, Emeritus

University of Oxford

1982
Newton-Abraham Visiting Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1953

Guggenheim Fellow, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich, Switzerland

1956

Member, National Academy of Sciences

1958

Medal, Société de Chemie Biologique

1961

Guggenheim Fellow, Imperial College, London, England

1964

Fritzsche Award, American Chemical Society

1964

Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology

1964

Distinguished Service Award, University of Chicago School of Medicine

1965

Centennial Science Award, University of Notre Dame

1965

Cardano Medal, Lombardy Academy of Sciences

1966

Honorary Member, Lombardy Academy of Sciences

1966

Honorary Degree, University of Uruguay

1966

Honorary Degree, University of Brazil

1966

Honorary Degree, University of Nancy

1966

Member, American Philosophical Society

1967

Honorary Degree, Columbia University

1968

William Lloyd Evans Award, Ohio State University

1968

Honorary Degree, Technische Hochschule, Muenchen

1968

Guggenheim Fellow, Harvard University

1970

Honorary Degree, Brandeis University

1971

Honorary Member, Phi Lambda Upsilon

1976

Honorary Member, Japanese Biochemical Society

1976

Corresponding Member, Bavarian Academy of Sciences

1976

Honorary Degree, Hokkaido University

1977

Foreign Member, Accademia Pattaviana

1985

Foreign Member, Royal Society, London

1987

Award for Excellence, Columbia University

1988

National Medal of Science

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education in Neisse
1

Family background. Effects of World War I on family. Secondary school at Realgymnasium. Bar Mitzvah.

Education in Munich
6

Reason for selecting Technische Hochschule. Speakers at Munich Chemical Society and decision to study organic chemistry. Art classes at the university.

Research Assistantship in Davos, Switzerland
8

Influence of Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Lecture by Kögl. Rejection for graduate study by Kögl and Butenandt. Reasons for wanting to go to United States. Wife's family background and career. First research project isolating phosphatidic acid. First awareness of cholesterol molecule. Rudolf Schoenheimer. How lipids become major interest.

Doctoral Studies at Columbia University
17

Acceptance of three publications for PhD degree. Crystallization of N-methylcysteine monohydrochloride. Brief employment at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Nitrogen-15 research. Introduction to biochemistry. Initial interest in biosynthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids.

University of Chicago
25

Reasons for moving from New York. Development of interest in mechanism of protein synthesis from amino acids. Discovery of acyl-CoA. Competion with Lynen, work leading to Nobel Prize.

Harvard University
31

Change in teaching style. Reasons for leaving Chicago. Channon paper on squalene. Shark hunting and research in Bermuda. Research with Leopole Ruzicka at ETH Zürich. Reaction to Nobel Prize. Refusal of offer to become first biochemistry professor at ETH. Chairmanship of Chemistry Department. Appointment at School of Public Health.

Later Research Interests
38

Nutrition. Role of oxygen in metabolism and evolution. "Aqua blonde" phenomenon in Venetian painting. Views of difference between biochemistry and molecular biology and The Human Genome Project.

Notes
50
Index
53

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.