You know that plants are green because they contain chlorophyll. You also know that chlorophyll is important for photosynthesis. But do you know that it was a scientist called Richard Martin Willstatter who discovered it?
Contributions to Science
Willstatter solved the structure of two chemicals with very different impacts on our lives: chlorophyll and cocaine!
In his youth, Willstatter was a student of the famous organic chemist Adolf von Baeyer. At that time a wine made from coca leaves called Vin Mariani was popular in Europe. It had a stimulating effect on those who drank it and helped them stay active and awake. What made it so active? Cocaine!
Though Albert Niemann had identified it; Willstatter was the first to synthesize it in a lab and prove its structure. While cocaine itself is dangerous, many compounds made from it are very useful. For example, your cough syrup contains a cocaine derivative, codeine.
Later, when he moved to Zurich, Willstatter became interested in chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is one of Planet Earth's most important chemicals - because it helps convert sunlight to chemical energy through photosynthesis. After working on it for a few years, he finally solved its structure. The discovery was so important that Willstatter was given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1915.
Willstatter solved the structure of two chemicals with very different impacts on our lives: cocaine and chlorophyll !
Richard Martin Willstatter was born in 1872 at Karlsruhe, Germany. At the age of 18, he went to study Chemistry at the University of Munich under Prof. Baeyer. He got his doctorate in 1894, and became a Lecturer at Munich in 1896.
He later went on to work at prestigious institutions such as ETH Zurich and the University of Berlin before returning to Munich in 1916, where he succeeded Prof. Baeyer as head of the Department of Chemistry.
He stayed there till 1924, when he announced his retirement to protest the anti-Jewish policies of Hitler. He died in Switzerland in 1942.