Letter from Richard Willstatter to Michael Heidelberger
Heidelberger had helped to synthesize cyclooctatetraene, the next higher analog of benzene (consisting of a ring with eight
carbon atoms and four double bonds), during a year of postdoctoral study (1911-12) in the laboratory of the 1915 Nobel Laureate,
Richard Willstatter, at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. His research with Willstatter on cyclooctatetraene
was controversial, and was questioned as late as the 1940s by Hugh S. Taylor and Charles D. Hurd. In this letter, Willstatter
admitted to being "shaken up" by Taylor and Hurd's criticism, which he concluded was due to a misreading of his
and Heidelberger's evidence and to ignorance on their part of the chemistry of hydrocarbons of the cyclooctane series.
He urged Heidelberger to publish a defense of their research.
In his correspondence with Taylor and Hurd, Heidelberger stood firmly by his and Willstatter's results, pointing out that
while Taylor and Hurd showed that cyclooctatetraene resinifies and degrades at high temperatures, he had instead worked in
cold temperatures continuously for 24 hours to synthesize a colorless liquid that was both stable and reactive. Heidelberger
and Willstatter's results were confirmed by others, and as a consequence of their work cyclooctatetraene became a widely
used intermediate in organic chemistry.
In addition, Willstatter congratulated Heidelberger on his research with phosphorylated egg albumin as an antigen for use
in precipitin reactions, which Willstatter predicted would open a "new field of work" in immunology.
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
1 (63,699 Bytes)
1940-03-27 (March 27, 1940)
Courtesy of Michael Heidelberger.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
The Making of an Immunologist: Heidelberger's Years at the Rockefeller Institute, 1912-1927
Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Hugh S. Taylor, Princeton University (September 9, 1939)
Letter from Hugh S. Taylor, Princeton University to Michael Heidelberger (November 4, 1939)
Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Hugh S. Taylor, Princeton University (November 7, 1939)
Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Charles D. Hurd, Northwestern University (November 8, 1939)
Letter from Charles D. Hurd, Northwestern University to Michael Heidelberger (November 29, 1939)