the years (1926-1930) that Hans studied with Otto Warburg,
he learned important techniques for testing ideas about energy
transformation in living tissue. But Hans also learned the
value of inventing new tools and approaches for conducting
experiments. Maybe the most important lesson was the value
of hard work. Warburg worked long and hard hours all his life;
he was working in his lab eight days before he died, at the
age of 81.
role model for Hans was Otto Myeroff, who worked in the same
institute and who received the Nobel Prize in 1922. In those
early years, the pay for young researchers was very low (remember,
the German economy had collapsed). Hans and his colleagues
continued to be supported by their parents, many of whom had
lost their life savings in the economic crash in Germany.
four years in Warburg's lab, Hans was told that he should
leave, because Warburg wanted a steady stream of novices that
he could train. Krebs felt that his abilities were not appreciated
by Warburg. Only years later did Hans learn that Warburg considered
him to be his favorite pupil. Warburg also worked behind
the scenes for many years to help get Hans invited to give
papers at important meetings and institutes.
left and got on the medical faculty at Freiburg University
in 1931. There he was in charge of a 40-bed hospital and had
a research laboratory. Although he had many physician duties
in the school's hospital, Hans was free for the first time
to pursue his own research ideas. Here, he and a medical student
assistant studied nitrogen metabolism in the liver and made
a major discovery, the ornithine cycle. This discovery was
important and it also prepared Hans' mind to accept the idea
that a chemical compound could go through a series of transformations
that finally led to a re-making of the original compound.
The ornithine cycle was the first such cycle ever discovered.
Now we know of about 100 such cycles, including the one that
Hans discovered to make him famous, the citric acid cycle
Adolph Hitler seized power. Hans knew that as a Jew he must
leave his homeland because Adolph Hitler had taken over the
country and was persecuting Jews. Indeed, despite his growing
fame from the ornithine cycle work, Hans was literally fired
from his university job. All Jews in Germany who were in government
positions were fired in 1933. But Hans had influential fans
outside of Germany. Hans believed that his sense of urgency
to complete work, rather than put it off, saved his life.
Had he pursued the ornithine research leisurely, he would
not have become famous in time to save him from the Nazis.
When he realized that he must flee Germany, he quickly landed
a Rockefeller Fellowship and an invitation to work at the
prestigious University of Cambridge in England. But the only
position he could get, despite the fact that he was world
famous, was at the lowest rank on the academic ladder. He
took it anyway so that he could continue his work.