Sep 15, 2011

Albert Szent-Györgyi Google Doodle

Today - Sep 16, 2011 Google celebrates the 118th Birthday of Albert Szent-Györgyi. 

Albert von Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt (September 16, 1893 – October 22, 1986) was a Hungarian physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1937. He is credited with discovering vitamin C and the components and reactions of the citric acid cycle. He was also active in the Hungarian Resistance during World War II and entered Hungarian politics after the war.

Szent-Györgyi was born in Budapest, Austro-Hungary. His father, Nicolaus von Szent-Györgyi, was a landowner, born in Marosvásárhely (today Târgu Mureş, Romania), a Calvinist, and could trace his ancestry back to 1608 when Sámuel, a Calvinist predicant, was ennobled. ( Nicolaus von Szent-Györgyis parents were Imre von Szent-Györgyi and Mária Csiky). His mother, Jozefin, a Roman Catholic, was a daughter of József Lenhossék and Anna Bossányi. Jozefin was a sister of Mihály Lenhossék; both of these men were Professors of Anatomy at the Eötvös Loránd University. His family included three generations of scientists. Music was important in the Lenhossék family and mother Jozefin who was very musical prepared to become an opera-singer. She auditioned for Gustav Mahler, then a conductor at the Budapest Opera. He advised her to marry instead, since her voice was not enough. Albert himself was good at the piano, while his brother Pál played the violin so well that he became a professional musician.

Szent-Györgyi began his studies at the Semmelweis University in 1911, but soon became bored with classes and began research in his uncle's anatomy lab. His studies were interrupted in 1914 to serve as an army medic in World War I. In 1916, disgusted with the war, Szent-Györgyi shot himself in the arm, claimed to be wounded from enemy fire, and was sent home on medical leave. He was then able to finish his medical education and receive his MD in 1917. He married Kornélia Demény, the daughter of the Hungarian Postmaster General that same year. She accompanied him to his next position at an army clinic in northern Italy.

After the war, Szent-Györgyi began his research career in Pressburg (Hungarian: Pozsony, today: Bratislava). When the city became part of Czechoslovakia in January 1919, he left the town as did a portion of the Hungarian population. He switched universities several times over the next few years, finally ending up at the University of Groningen, where his work focused on the chemistry of cellular respiration. This work landed him a position as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow at Cambridge University. He received his PhD from Cambridge in 1927 for his work on isolating what he then called "hexuronic acid" from adrenal gland tissue.

He accepted a position at the University of Szeged in 1930. There, Szent-Györgyi and his research fellow Joseph Svirbely found that "hexuronic acid" was actually vitamin C (the L-enantiomer of ascorbic acid) and noted its anti-scorbutic activity. In some experiments they used paprika as the source for their vitamin C. Also during this time, Szent-Györgyi continued his work on cellular respiration, identifying fumaric acid and other steps in what would become known as the Krebs cycle. In Szeged he also met Zoltán Bay, physicist, who also became his personal friend. In the future they worked together in matters of bio-physics.

In 1937, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "For his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion process with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid". In 1938, he began work on the biophysics of muscle movement. He found that muscles contain actin, which when combined with the protein myosin and the energy source ATP, contract muscle fibers.

As fascists gained control of politics in Hungary, Szent-Györgyi helped his Jewish friends escape from the country. During World War II, he joined the Hungarian resistance movement. Although Hungary was allied with the Axis Powers, the Hungarian prime minister Miklós Kállay sent Szent-Györgyi to Cairo in 1944 under the guise of a scientific lecture to begin secret negotiations with the Allies. The Germans learned of this plot, and Adolf Hitler himself issued a warrant for the arrest of Szent-Györgyi. He escaped house arrest and spent 1944 to 1945 as a fugitive from the Gestapo.

After the war, Szent-Györgyi was well-recognized as a public figure and there was some speculation that he might become President of Hungary, should the Soviets permit it. Szent-Györgyi established a laboratory at the University of Budapest and became head of the biochemistry department there. He was elected as a member of Parliament and helped re-establish the Academy of Sciences. Dissatisfied with the Communist rule of Hungary, he emigrated to the United States in 1947.

In 1947, Szent-Györgyi established the Institute for Muscle Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts with financial support from Hungarian businessman Stephen Rath. However, Szent-Györgyi still faced funding difficulties for several years, due to his foreign status and former association with the government of a Communist nation. In 1948, he received a research position with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland and began dividing his time between there and Woods Hole. In 1950, grants from the Armour Meat Company and the American Heart Association allowed him to establish the Institute for Muscle Research.

During the 1950s, Szent-Györgyi began using electron microscopes to study muscles at the subunit level. He received the Lasker Award in 1954. In 1955, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1956.

In the late 1950s, Szent-Györgyi developed a research interest in cancer and developed ideas on applying the theories of quantum mechanics to the biochemistry of cancer.

Szent-Györgyi married June Susan Wichterman, the 25-year-old daughter of Woods Hole biologist Ralph Wichterman, in 1965. They were divorced in 1968. He married his fourth wife, Marcia Houston, 1975. They adopted a daughter, Lola Von Szent-Györgyi.

He died in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on October 22, 1986. Through his daughter from his three-year marriage to Wichterman, he has three grand-children: Michael, Lesley and David. David Pollitt-Szent-Györgyi is a conductor, trained as a violinist at Juilliard. Albert Szent-Györgyi's extended family also includes Andrew (András) Szent-Györgyi, an astrophysicist at Harvard, and a different Andrew Szent-Györgyi, who is a bio-physicist at Brandeis. Among his second cousins are other physicists as well: Géza Györgyi (in Hungarian: Györgyi Géza) and Viktor Györgyi who recently invented a new kind of powerplant wind turbine.

His daughter from his eleven-year marriage to Marcia Houston, Lola Von Szent-Györgyi, is an artist and designer living in New York. He also has a grand-daughter Sienna Jade Baird. (Wikipedia)

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