Adolf Butenandt

Adolf Butenandt

Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt in 1921
Born (1903-03-24)24 March 1903
Lehe/Bremerhaven, German Empire
Died 18 January 1995(1995-01-18) (aged 91)
Munich, Germany
Nationality Germany
Fields Organic and biochemistry
Institutions Kaiser Wilhelm Institute / Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry
Technical University of Danzig
Doctoral advisor Adolf Windaus
Notable awards Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1939)
Kriegsverdienstkreuz (1942)

Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt (24 March 1903 – 18 January 1995) was a German biochemist.[1] He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1939 for his "work on sex hormones." He initially rejected the award in accordance with government policy, but accepted it in 1949 after World War II.[1][2][3][4] He was President of the Max Planck Society from 1960 to 1972.


Born in Lehe, near Bremerhaven, he started his studies at the University of Marburg.

For his Ph.D he joined the working group of the Nobel laureate Adolf Windaus at the University of Göttingen and he finished his studies with a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1927.


Adolf Windaus and Walter Schöller of Schering gave him the advice to work on hormones extracted from ovaries. This research lead to the discovery of estrone and other primary female sex hormones, which were extracted from several thousand liters of urine.[5][6] While working as professor in Gdańsk at the Chemisches Institut he was continuing his works over hormons extracting progesterone in 1934 and testosterone a year later, obtaining a substantial part of research results awarded later by Nobel Committee in 1939.[7]

For this research he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1939 together with Leopold Ružička who was involved in the synthesis of several newly discovered steroids.

After his Habilitation he became lecturer in Göttingen 1931. He was professor at the Technical University of Danzig 1933-1936,[8] and after a visit in the US, he became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biochemistry (later the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry) in Berlin-Dahlem beginning in 1936.[9]

In 1933 Butenandt had signed the Loyalty Oath of German Professors to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist State.

Butenandt joined the Nazi Party on 1 May 1936 (party member No. 3716562). As the head of a leading institute, he applied for government funding on concentrated research labeled kriegswichtig (important for the war), some of which focused on military projects like the improvement of oxygen uptake for high-altitude bomber pilots. His involvement with the Nazi regime and various themes of research led to criticism after the war and even after his death, the exact nature of his political orientation during the Nazi era has never been fully resolved.[10] When the institute moved to Tübingen in 1945 he became a professor at the University of Tübingen. In 1956, when the institute relocated to Martinsried, a suburb of Munich, Butenandt became a professor at the University of Munich. He also served as president of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science following Otto Hahn from 1960 to 1972.

Butenandt is credited with the discovery and naming of the silkworm moth pheromone Bombykol in 1959.

Butenandt died in Munich in 1995, at the age of 91. His wife Erika, born in 1906, has died in 1995 at 88.

Honours and awards


  1. 1 2 Szöllösi-Janze, Margit (2001). Science in the Third Reich (German Historical Perspectives). Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers. ISBN 1-85973-421-9.
  2. Akhtar, M.; Akhtar, M. E. (1998). "Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt. 24 March 1903-18 January 1995". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 44: 79. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1998.0006.
  3. Karlson, P. (1995). "Adolf Butenandt (1903–1995)". Nature. 373 (6516): 660. doi:10.1038/373660b0. PMID 7854440.
  4. Jaenicke, L. (1995). "Adolf Butenandt: 24. 3. 1903 - 18. 1. 1995". Chemie in unserer Zeit. 29 (3): 163–165. doi:10.1002/ciuz.19950290313.
  5. Butenandt, A. (1929). "Über "Progynon" ein krystallisiertes weibliches Sexualhormon". Die Naturwissenschaften. 17 (45): 879–879. doi:10.1007/BF01506919.
  6. Butenandt, A. (1931). "Über die chemische Untersuchung der Sexualhormone". Zeitschrift für Angewandte Chemie. 44 (46): 905. doi:10.1002/ange.19310444602.
  7. Piosik, R. (2003). "Adolf Butenandt und sein Wirken an der Technischen Hochschule Danzig". Chemkon. 10 (3): 135. doi:10.1002/ckon.200390038.
  8. Piosik, R. (2003). "Adolf Butenandt und sein Wirken an der Technischen Hochschule Danzig". Chemkon. 10 (3): 135. doi:10.1002/ckon.200390038.
  9. Mertens, L. (2003). "Nur"Zweite Wahl" oder Die Berufung Adolf Butenandts zum Direktor des KWI für Biochemie". Berichte zur Wissenschafts-Geschichte. 26 (3): 213. doi:10.1002/bewi.200390058.
  10. Trunk, A. (2006). "Biochemistry in Wartime: The Life and Lessons of Adolf Butenandt, 1936–1946". Minerva. 44 (3): 285–306. doi:10.1007/s11024-006-9002-2.
  11. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 166. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  12. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 972. Retrieved 10 December 2012.


External links

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