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Pregl, Fritz

compounds methods organic sample

(1869–1930) Austrian chemist: developed microanalysis of organic compounds.

Pregl is unusual among Nobel Prize winners in that the award, made to him in 1923, was not for a discovery but ‘for modifying and improving existing methods’. He graduated in medicine at Graz and spent his career there, initially as a biochemist working on bile acids. His early work showed him that elemental analysis of organic compounds was unreliable and also then required a sample of about 0.5 g, a limitation at a time when biochemists began to study compounds such as vitamins, which were difficult to obtain in such quantity. Pregl proceeded to refine every stage in the classical combustion method of analysis, in which a sample is burned in a stream of oxygen and the resulting carbon dioxide and water are collected and measured. Among his refinements was the improvement of the chemical balance, to weigh within 0.001 mg. By the 1930s he made it possible for analysts to use samples below 5 mg, and for the next half-century his methods were routinely used. He similarly improved analytical methods for nitrogen, sulphur and halogens. Generations of 20th-c organic chemists depended on such methods as a basic step in working out the structure for novel compounds, natural or synthetic.

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