Neuberg, Carl, 1877-

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1877-07-29
Death 1956-05-30
Germans
English, German, Italian

Biographical notes:

Carl Neuberg was a biochemist.

From the description of Papers, [ca. 1929]-1956. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122616052

To say that Carl Neuberg (1877-1956) was a pioneer in biochemistry is to understate the case: he coined the term. Born in Hanover, Germany, on July 29, 1877, to the Jewish merchant, Julius Sandel Neuberg and his wife Alma (Niemann), Neuberg studied chemistry under Virchow at the University of Berlin, receiving his Dr. Phil. in 1900. Appointed to the Pathological Institute of the University, Neuberg rose through the academic ranks from Privatdozent in 1903 to Titularprofessor (1906), before becoming head of the Tierphysiologisches Institut at the University from 1909-1913 and simultaneously full professor at the Landwirtschaftliche Hochschule in Berlin.

The major achievements of Neuberg's early career included the elucidation of solubility and transport phenomena in cells, the chemistry of carbohydrates and sugars, photochemistry, and the discovery of the different forms of fermentation. As early as 1912, he also devoted attention to the chemistry of amino acids and enzymes, and in 1916, he discovered hydrotropy, which he considered one of his most important discoveries. Neuberg contributed materially to the German war effort in 1914-1918 by developing the process of manufacturing glycerol and substitutes through the fermentation of sugar.

Neuberg's influence on the emergence of the field of biochemistry was profound. He helped establish the Biochemische Zeitschrift in 1906 and edited 278 volumes over the next thirty years. The nomenclature in the field bears similar traces of Neuberg's ingenuity, including the terms phosphorylation, dismutation, desmolysis, and co-enzyme.

Neuberg's increasing status during the 1910s and 1920s brought him a steady increase in administrative power. In 1913, he was recognized with an appointment as Second Director at the prestigious new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Experimental Therapy, headed by August von Wasserman, and his promotion to Professor (1916) and full Professor (1919) at the University of Berlin followed in short order. Neuberg accrued a range of other responsibilities at the same time as he became Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biochemistry in 1920, of the Institute for Experimental Therapy upon Wasserman's death in 1923, and adding the directorship of the Forschungsstelle des Deutschen Rechies für Chemie des Tabaks in 1928.

With the rise to power of the Nazis, Neuberg initially believed his services during the First World War would afford him some protection. In 1937, however, he was driven out of his posts by the Nazis. Only two days before the war broke out, a friend in military circles issued Neuberg a pass to leave, with the intention of assuming a position offered to him at the University of Jerusalem. Landing in Amsterdem, he worked to raise money for his passage, and with the assistance of his old colleague Claude Fromageot, reached Palestine. Neuberg resumed his monumental wartime peregrinations in 1941, and a dramatic passage through Iraq, Iran, India, and New Guinea, he arrived at New York University in February 1941,with little more than a pair of valises to his name.

Already nearing the standard age of retirement, Neuberg lamented that he had arrived "ten years too late to find a proper position" in the United States, and certainly he fared poorly relative other displaced scholars, such as Max Bergmann and Erwin Chargaff . The miniscule laboratory he occupied at the university from 1941-1950 and his inadequate pay were inadequate to support a substantial research program. "Lieber Herr College Thomas," he wrote to an old colleague in Germany, "Sie sehen in Amerika ist fuer unsereinen nicht das Paradies.... Jetzt bin ich eine alter immigrierter Hund, der nur mit einem Handkoefferchen angekommen ist, Emigrant bin ich eigentlich nicht, sondern nur einfach herausgeworfen." To his old colleague Maria Kobel he complained "Der Titel Research-Professor ist eine Verbraemung des Nichts."

Neuberg nevertheless succeeded in securing important contacts with the pharmaceutical and fermentation industries over the next decade, and like many of his peers, his late career maps out the increasing role played by the federal government and industry in the post-war years. In 1950, he spent a year as visiting lecturer at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and he traveled to Germany in 1952 to deliver lectures on biochemistry, receiving honorary degrees and awards along the way.

Over the course of his career, Neuberg contributed to over 900 publications, including work on the chemistry of sugars, fermentation, enzymes, and amino acids. He considered his most important work to lie in the discovery of carboxylase, the different forms of fermentation, the artificial production of glycerol, and the discovery of pyro-, meta- and polyphosphatases. His work on solubility and transport phenomena had broad applicability in the life sciences, including to agriculture, nutrition, cytology, and oncology.

Neuberg was the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Breslau, Danzig, Palermo, Edinburgh, and Berlin, and he was recipient of Emil Fischer Scheele, Berzelius, Delbrück, Leblanc, and Pasteur medals. He died at home in New York in 1956.

From the guide to the Carl Neuberg Papers, Bulk, 1940-1956, ca.1880-1956, (American Philosophical Society)

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Subjects:

  • Fermentation products industry
  • Political refugees
  • Federal aid to research
  • Sugar
  • Chemical industry--United States
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Federal aid to research--United States
  • Fermentation
  • Chemical industry
  • Biochemistry
  • Jewish scientists

Occupations:

  • Chemists
  • Scientists

Places:

  • Germany (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)