Thursday, April 12, 2007

Top 5 suicide chemists

1) Emil Fischer (1852-1919)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1902.
His son Walther commited suicide in 1915 and another son Alfred died of typhoid fever in 1917.
Suffering from intestinal carcinoma, pain resulting from his excessive exposure to phenylhydrazine and the loss of his sons in WWI, he committed suicide in 1919 (anybody who knows how?). Before he took his life he finalized his testament and submitted his last two papers for publication (Hoppe-Seylers Z. Physiol. Chem. 1919, 107, 176-202. and Hoppe-Seylers Z. Physiol. Chem. 1919, 108, 3-8. A nice biography can be found here (Eur. J. Org. Chem. 2002, 24, 4095).

2) Hans Fischer (1881-1945)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1930.
He committed suicide on 31 March 1945 in Munich after his institute and his work were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid during the last days of World War II.

3) George R. Price (1922-1975)
Physical chemist, population geneticist and science journalist. He started his career as an instructor in chemistry at Harvard University. He dedicated his later life to helping the homeless. He committed suicide by cutting his throat with a pair of nail scissors. Friends said he committed suicide because of despondency over his inability to continue helping the homeless.

4) Nicolas Leblanc (1742-1806)
French chemist developed a process for making sodium carbonate from sodium chloride. The Revolutionary government seized his patent and factory in 1794. The factory was handed back to him by Napoleon in 1802 but he didn't have the money to get back in production. A broken and depressed man, Leblanc used a gun to kill himself.

5) Harold Watkins
Sulfanilamide, a drug used to treat streptococcal infections was used as tablet and as an injectable. To market the drug for children and patients who preferred to take their medications in liquid forms, the chief chemist of S.E. Massengill Co. Harold cole Watkins tried to find a way to liquefy the drug. He discovered the drug dissolved in diethylene glycol. Without testing the drug 1300 bottles were distributed. 107 people died. This incident was the impetus for the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

After this '1937 Elixir Sulfanilamide Incident' Watkins shot himself. (Some say it was an accidental shot while cleaning his gun.)


Anonymous said...

I think I´ve heard that Hans Fischer died of cyanide poisoning but I am not sure whether this is true. Bot Emil and Hans Fischer were teaching and working at our university. They were great chemists!

Anonymous said...

Carothers was another good suicide.

Thomas said...

Carothers was cyanide in lemonade at a Philadelphia Hotel. In the Roger Adams biography, it describes Adams' attempts to help his former student's depression by taking him on a European hiking expedition the year prior.

Wavefunction said...

Ludwig Boltzmann qualifies as a quasi physical chemist.

Anonymous said...

Does Woodward count?

Anonymous said...


Great list - I like the others, too.

Anonymous said...