Heinrich Otto Wieland was born as the son of Württemberger parents, Dr. Theodor Wieland and Elise Blum, on June 4, 1877, in Pforzheim where his father was a pharmaceutical chemist. He studied at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Stuttgart, and then returned to the Baeyer Laboratory in Munich where, in 1901, he received his doctorate under Johannes Thiele. In Munich, where he had chosen to make his home, he received in 1904 the venia legendi and in 1913 a senior lectureship in the University Chemical Laboratory. In 1917 he transferred his activities to the Technical College nearby as a full Professor. From 1917-1918 he was busy at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin-Dahlem working on Defence. In 1921 he accepted a call to Freiburg and in 1925 returned to Munich at Willstätter’s request to succeed him in his Chair in the University of Munich. For twenty-seven years the destiny of the Munich laboratory lay in his hands.
Wieland’s scientific work, recorded in four hundred publications, covers a wide field in the realm of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry.
For several decades Wieland’s attention was claimed by the organic nitrogenous compounds. His brilliant studies of the reaction of nitrogen oxides with orefins and aromatics, the clarification of furoxanes as well as the classical experiments with fulminic acid and its polymerization may be chosen as examples. In the same connection, Wieland succeeded in the first production of stable organic nitrogen radicals, of diphenyl nitrogen and its N-oxide. The proof of short-lived radicals in solution reactions involved him in an extensive series of experiments whose importance for the modern development of organic radical chemistry can hardly be overestimated.
In later years Wieland was entirely devoted to the chemistry of natural substances. His contributions to the clarification of the structure of morphine and strychnine, the constitution and synthesis of the lobelia alkaloid and the research into the curare alkaloid were masterpieces. Work on the poisonous agent in the “death cap” mushroom led to the isolation of the crystalline cyclopeptides phalloidine and amanitine; work on the pigment of butterflies led to the discovery of the biologically important class of pterin compounds. The publications which began in 1912 on the subject of bile acids culminated in 1932 in the clarification of the carbon framework of the steroids, whose general importance in Nature Wieland recognized.
Much of Wieland’s life work was occupied by the investigations into the oxidation processes in living cells, which enabled him to recognize dehydrogenation as a universal oxidation principle in Nature. This work restored the unity of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry which had been lost since the time of Liebig.
It is not surprising that Wieland was accorded all the honours that the scientific world has to offer. He was a member of the great learned societies of the world, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1927, he received the Order of Merit and the Otto Hahn Prize, and for twenty years he was Editor of Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie. Wieland’s great school is evidence of his importance as an academic teacher.
In an age of increasing specialization, Wieland was among the last of those who were able to enjoy an encyclopaedic knowledge of the whole of Chemistry.
In 1908, he married Josephine Bartmann of Munich. They had three sons, Wolfgang, a doctor of pharmaceutical chemistry; Theodor, professor of chemistry in the University of Frankfurt; and Otto, professor of medicine in the University of Munich, and one daughter, Eva, who is married to Professor Feodor Lynen, professor of biochemistry in the University of Munich, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1964.
The great scholar’s life was ruled by hard work, but also by love and kindness both to his pupils and to his family; it ended shortly after his 80th birthday, on August 5, 1957, in Starnberg.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.