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Fischer, Hans

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(1881–1945) German organic chemist: synthesized porphyrins.

Fischer graduated in Marburg in chemistry and in Munich in medicine, where he was professor of organic chemistry from 1921. In the last stage of the Second World War his laboratory was destroyed by bombing and Fischer killed himself. His work from 1921 was almost entirely on the porphyrin group of compounds, which contain four pyrrole rings linked together. His first major success with these difficult but important compounds was with haemin, the red non-protein part of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. In it the four pyrrole rings are linked together to form a larger (macrocyclic) ring, with an iron atom at the centre. Fischer found the detailed structure, and synthesized it in 1929. He went on to study the chlorophylls, the green pigments of plants which are key compounds in photosynthesis. He showed that they are porphyrins related in structure to haemin, with magnesium in place of iron. For this porphyrin work he was awarded the Nobel Prize for 1930. He went on to find the structure of bilirubin (the pigment of bile, related to haemin) and synthesized it in 1944.

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