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Stamp Vignette on Medical Science| Volume 76, ISSUE 4, P351, April 2001

Heinrich Wieland—Nobel Prize in Chemistry

      The 1927 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to German chemist Heinrich Otto Wieland for investigations he began in 1912 on the constitution of bile acids and related substances. He isolated 3 bile acids and discovered that they had similar structures and were structurally related to cholesterol. This work led to the recognition of the carbon framework of steroids and the study of oxidation processes in living cells.
      Wieland, the son of a pharmaceutical chemist, was born on June 4, 1877, in Pforzheim in Baden-Württemberg, western Germany (near Stuttgart). He attended the universities of Munich (1896), Berlin (1897), and Stuttgart (1898). He received a PhD degree from the University of Munich in 1901. From 1901 to 1913, he taught chemistry at the University of Munich, and in 1913, he joined the faculty of the Technische Hochschule in Munich, where he remained until 1921. During World War I (1914–1918), he obtained a leave of absence (1917–1918) to work with Fritz Haber (1868–1934) at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin on the German war effort to develop chemical weapons.
      Wieland returned to Munich after the war. In 1921, he became professor of chemistry at the University of Freiburg (Germany), where he remained until 1925. In 1924, German chemist and 1915 Nobel Prize winner Richard Willstätter (1872–1942) resigned as director of the famous Baeyer Laboratory at the University of Munich, and in 1925, Wieland succeeded him and directed the laboratory for the next 25 years.
      Wieland's early work was concerned with organic nitrogen-containing compounds, and his later work (ie, after his research on bile acids) focused on the chemistry of natural substances such as morphine, strychnine, and alkaloids.
      Another of Wieland's important contributions was his theory that oxidation in living tissue involves the removal of the hydrogen atom (dehydrogenation) instead of the addition of oxygen. This theory has been of great value in physiology, biochemistry, and medicine.
      Wieland wrote extensively about the field of organic chemistry, and for 25 years he was the editor of Liebig's Annals of Chemistry. He retired from active work in 1950. On August 5, 1957, at the age of 80 years, Wieland died in Starnberg in southern Bavaria (10 miles southwest of Munich). He was honored on a stamp issued by Sierra Leone in 1995.