Levels of Organization Image Map
Hans' Nobel Prize Family

Many scientists believe that the way to learn how to do great science is to study under a great scientist. It is true that many Nobel Prize winners have been students of other Nobel Prize winners.

The "family tree" of scientists, who taught Hans Krebs, shows the following relationships of science teachers and mentors:

Berthollet (1748-1822)
   Gay-Lussac (1778-1850)
      Liebig (1803-1873)
         Kekule (1829-1896)
            von Baeyer (1835-1917)
               Fischer (1852-1919)
                  Warburg (1883-1970)
                             Krebs (1900- 1981)

All of these men were famous scientists. Each of the last four received Nobel Prizes, which began in 1901. There was only one scientist in Hans' biological family tree, a distant cousin, who was a physical chemist.

Warburg ImageIn 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.

Another 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.

After 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.

So Hans 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 (Krebs cycle).

In 1933 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.

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