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Oral history interview with Albert Eschenmoser

  • 1985-Oct-07

Oral history interview with Albert Eschenmoser

  • 1985-Oct-07

Albert Eschenmoser begins the interview with a discussion of his early life and education. Born in Switzerland, he attended school in the canton of Uri. At the age of sixteen, he decided that he wanted to become a secondary school teacher, and attended an Oberrealschule in St. Gallen. He received his Maturität in 1944, and continued on to the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (ETH). Eschenmoser was encouraged to pursue chemistry, and—inspired by Leopold Ruzicka—concentrated on organic chemistry. His research focused on sesquiterpene chemistry. In 1949, he earned his diploma, and became a doctoral student under Ruzicka. His doctoral thesis addressed acid-catalyzed cyclization, and in 1951 he received his doctorate. Eschenmoser’s research interests then turned to the synthesis of colchicine, which his group accomplished in 1959. Next came vitamin B12 and the corrin ligand system. ETH collaborated with Robert B. Woodward’s Harvard research group on this project, and in 1972 they announced the success of the vitamin B12 synthesis. Eschenmoser concludes the interview with a discussion of research funding, his professional recognition, and the ramifications of the vitamin B12 synthesis.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 41 pages
  • 2h 10m 55s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

Tonja A. Koeppel received a master’s degree in chemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1944. Since then she has written about chemistry, done research, and taught college chemistry. Dr. Koeppel is also a historian of chemistry. In 1973 she earned a PhD degree in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania. She is especially interested in the development of organic chemistry in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0019

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • August 05, 1925
  • Erstfeld, Switzerland
  • July 14, 2023


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1949 Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich Dipl Sc Nat
1951 Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich Dr Sc Nat Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

  • 1956 to 1960 Instructor, Organic Chemistry
  • 1960 to 1965 Associate Professor, Organic Chemistry
  • 1965 to 1992
  • 1992 Professor Emeritus

Scripps Research Institute

  • 1996 Professor, Skaggs Institute for Chemical Bioogy


Year(s) Award
1949 Kern Prize, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
1956 Werner Prize, Swiss Chemical Society
1958 Ruzicka Prize, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
1966 Fritzsche Award, American Chemical Society
1966 Honorary Degree, University of Fribourg
1970 Honorary ScD, University of Chicago
1973 Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences
1973 Marcel Benoist Prize, Eidgenössiches Departement des Innern, Switzerland
1974 Robert A. Welch Award, Houston
1976 Kirkwood Medal, Yale University
1976 August Wilhelm von Hofmann Medal, Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker
1976 ACS Centennial Foreign Fellow, American Chemical Society
1977 Dannie Heineman Prize, Academy of Sciences, Germany (BRD)
1978 Davy Medal, Royal Society
1979 Honorary DsC, University of Edinburgh
1980 Dr. Cliff S. Hamilton Award in Organic Chemistry, Lincoln, Nebraska
1981 Honorary Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry
1981 Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry, Pergamon Press
1982 George Kenner Award, University of Liverpool
1984 Arthur C. Cope Award, American Chemical Society
1986 Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Wolf Foundation
1988 M. M. Janot Medal, Gif-sur-Yvette
1989 Honorary Degree, Univeristy of Bologna
1990 Honorary Degree, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
1991 Honorary Degree, Université Louis Pasteur de Strasbourg
1991 Cothenius Medal, Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina
1993 Honorary Degree, Harvard University
1994 CIBA-Drew Award in Biomedical Research, Drew University
1995 H. H. Inhoffen Medall, Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung
1998 Nakanishi Prize, Chemical Society of Japan

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PDF — 802 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

3 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads