Sir Ernst Boris Chain, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1945

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Sir Ernst Boris Chain, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1945

Birthdate: (73)
Birthplace: Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Death: August 12, 1979 (73)
Castlebar, Mayo, Mayo, Ireland
Immediate Family:

Son of Michael Chain and Margarete Chain
Husband of Anne Ethel Chain
Father of <private> Chain; <private> Chain and <private> Chain

Occupation: Chemist, Nobel Laureate, 1945
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Sir Ernst Boris Chain, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1945

Sir Ernst Boris Chain, FRS (19 June 1906 – 12 August 1979) was a German-born British biochemist, and a 1945 co-recipient (with Sir Howard Florey and Sir Alexander Fleming) of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work on penicillin: "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases"

Life and career

Chain was born in Berlin, the son of Margarete (née Eisner) and Michael Chain, who was a chemist and industrialist dealing in chemical products. His family was Jewish. His father emigrated from Russia to study chemistry abroad and his mother was from Berlin. In 1930, he received his degree in chemistry from Friedrich Wilhelm University. After the Nazis came to power, Chain knew that he, being Jewish, would no longer be safe in Germany. He left Germany in 1933 and moved to England.

He began working on phospholipids at Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge University under the direction of Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins. In 1935, he accepted a job at Oxford University as a lecturer in pathology. During this time he worked on a range of research topics, including snake venoms, tumour metabolism, lysozymes, and biochemistry techniques.

In 1939, he joined Howard Florey to investigate natural antibacterial agents produced by microorganisms. This led him and Florey to revisit the work of Alexander Fleming, who had described penicillin nine years earlier. Chain and Florey went on to discover penicillin's therapeutic action and its chemical composition. He also theorized the structure of penicillin, which was confirmed by X-ray crystallography done by Dorothy Hodgkin. For this research, Chain, Florey, and Fleming received the Nobel Prize in 1945.

Towards the end of World War II, Chain learned his mother and sister had perished in the war. After World War II, Chain moved to Rome, to work at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Superior Institute of Health). He returned to Britain in 1964 as the founder and head of the biochemistry department at Imperial College London, where he stayed until his retirement, specialising in fermentation technologies. He was knighted soon after in 1969.

He was a lifelong friend of Professor Albert Neuberger, whom he met in Berlin in the 1930s.

In 1948, he married Anne Chain, sister of Max Beloff and Nora Beloff. In his later life, his Jewish identity became increasingly important to him. He became a member of the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovot in 1954, and later a member of the executive council. He raised his children securely within the Jewish faith, arranging much extracurricular tuition for them. His views were expressed most clearly in his speech ‘Why I am a Jew’ given at the World Jewish Congress Conference of Intellectuals in 1965.

Chain died at the Mayo General Hospital in 1979. The Imperial College London biochemistry building is named after him, as is a road in Castlebar.

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Sir Ernst Boris Chain, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1945's Timeline

June 19, 1906
Berlin, Berlin, Germany
August 12, 1979
Age 73
Castlebar, Mayo, Mayo, Ireland