Adolf Butenandt

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Adolf Butenandt
Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt in 1921
Born(1903-03-24)24 March 1903
Died18 January 1995(1995-01-18) (aged 91)
Munich, Germany
AwardsNobel Prize for Chemistry (1939)
Kriegsverdienstkreuz (1942)
Scientific career
FieldsOrganic and biochemistry
InstitutionsKaiser Wilhelm Institute / Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry
Technical University of Danzig
ThesisUntersuchungen über das Rotenon, den physiologisch wirksamen Bestandteil der Derris elliptica (1928)
Doctoral advisorAdolf Windaus

Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt (German pronunciation: [ˈaːdɔlf ˈbuːtənant] ; 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. He was also the first, in 1959, to discover the structure of the sex pheromone of silkworms, which he named bombykol.

Education and early life[edit]

Born in Lehe, near Bremerhaven, he started his studies at the University of Marburg. For his PhD he joined the working group of the Nobel laureate Adolf Windaus at the University of Göttingen and he finished his studies with a PhD in chemistry in 1927. His doctoral research was on the chemistry of the insecticidal toxin found in the roots of Derris elliptica which he isolated and characterized. After his Habilitation he became lecturer in Göttingen 1931.

Professional career[edit]

He became a professor ordinarius at the Technical University of Danzig 1933–1936.[5] In 1933 Butenandt signed the Vow of allegiance of the Professors of the German Universities and High-Schools to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialistic State. In 1936 he applied for the directorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut (later the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry) in Berlin-Dahlem[6] while also joining the NSDAP on 1 May 1936 (party member No. 3716562). The earlier director of the Kaiser Wilhelm institute was Carl Neuberg, who had been removed for being a Jew. His work on rotenones was considered useful by the Nazi leadership as it could be useful for controlling lice among soldiers in the trenches. 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.[7]


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.[8][9] While working as professor in Danzig at the Chemisches Institut he was continuing his works over hormones extracting progesterone in 1934 and testosterone a year later, the research results were along with the synthesis of steroids by Leopold Ružička considered significant enough to be awarded later by Nobel Committee in 1939.[5] In 1940 he was involved in research on a hormone treatment to make long submarine voyages more comfortable for submariners in the Kriegsmarine.[7]

Butenand's 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.[7] When the institute moved to Tübingen in 1945 he became a professor at the University of Tübingen. In 1948 he was considered for the chair for physiological medicine at the University of Basel.[10] He entered in negotiations but eventually was convinced to stay the chemical industry to stay in Germany.[10] 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.[11] His wife Erika [de], born in 1906, died in 1995 at 88.[12] They had seven children.[13]

Honours and awards[edit]

Honorary doctorates[edit]

Butenandt received 14 honorary doctorates,[27] including Tübingen (1949), Munich (1950), Graz (1957), Leeds (1961), Thessaloniki (1961), Madrid (1963), Vienna (1965), St. Louis (1965), Berlin (1966), Cambridge (1966) and Gdansk (1994).[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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: 79–92. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1998.0006. PMID 11623990.
  3. ^ Karlson, P. (1995). "Adolf Butenandt (1903–1995)". Nature. 373 (6516): 660. Bibcode:1995Natur.373..660K. doi:10.1038/373660b0. PMID 7854440. S2CID 4349895.
  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. ^ a b Piosik, R. (2003). "Adolf Butenandt und sein Wirken an der Technischen Hochschule Danzig". Chemkon. 10 (3): 135–138. doi:10.1002/ckon.200390038.
  6. ^ Mertens, L. (2003). "Nur"Zweite Wahl" oder Die Berufung Adolf Butenandts zum Direktor des KWI für Biochemie". Berichte zur Wissenschafts-Geschichte. 26 (3): 213–222. doi:10.1002/bewi.200390058.
  7. ^ a b c 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. S2CID 143929707.
  8. ^ Butenandt, A. (1929). "Über "Progynon" ein krystallisiertes weibliches Sexualhormon". Die Naturwissenschaften. 17 (45): 879. Bibcode:1929NW.....17..879B. doi:10.1007/BF01506919. S2CID 2856469.
  9. ^ Butenandt, A. (1931). "Über die chemische Untersuchung der Sexualhormone". Zeitschrift für Angewandte Chemie. 44 (46): 905–908. Bibcode:1931AngCh..44..905B. doi:10.1002/ange.19310444602.
  10. ^ a b Simon, Christian (2009). "Aus der Geschichte der Universität Basel". Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde (in German). Schwabe Verlag. pp. 9–10. Retrieved 20 April 2023.
  11. ^ "Beileid zum tode von adolf butenandt". Die Bundesregierung informiert (in German). Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  12. ^ "Familie Adolf Butenandt". Archivportal-D (in German). Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  13. ^ "Der ehemalige Präsident der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Adolf Butenandt, wusste viel und sagte nichts: Ein Normalfall im Dritten Reich". Berliner Zeitung (in German). 3 September 2004. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  14. ^ "MAX PLANCK GESELLSCHAFT". Digital Story – Adolf Butenandt (in German). Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  15. ^ "70 Years Paul Ehrlich und Ludwig Darmstaedter-Prize". Goethe-Universität (in German). 7 March 1986. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  16. ^ "BR Retro: Bundesverdienstkreuz-Verleihung 1959". ARD Mediathek (in German). 30 January 1959. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  17. ^ "Adolf Butenandt –". Seestadt Bremerhaven (in German). 15 August 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  18. ^ "The Max Planck Society and Harnack House". Harnack House of the Max Planck Society. 4 December 2023. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  19. ^ "Butenandt". ORDEN POUR LE MÉRITE (in German). Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  20. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 166. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  21. ^ "Auszeichnungen und zivile Orden (nach 1945)". Historisches Lexikon Bayerns (in German). Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  22. ^ Chronik University of Munich, p.166
  23. ^ "Adolf Butenandt: Der Jäger der Sexualhormone". (in German). 25 February 2017. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  24. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 972. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  25. ^ "Prof. Dr. Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt". Lindau Nobel Mediatheque. 19 June 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  26. ^ "Wirtschafts-Nobelpreisträger in Lindau". Sü (in German). 5 December 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  27. ^ University of Marburg
  28. ^ Piosik, Romuald (1998). "Doktor Honoris Causa der Technischen Hochschule Danzig". Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego. ISSN 0208-6182. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  29. ^ "Prof. Adolf Butenandt". Politechnika Gdańska (in Polish). Retrieved 13 December 2023.


  • Angelika Ebbinghaus, Karl-Heinz Roth (2002). "Von der Rockefeller Foundation zur Kaiser-Wilhelm/Max-Planck-Gesellschaft: Adolf Butenandt als Biochemiker und Wissenschaftspolitiker des 20. Jahrhunderts". Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft. 50 (5): 389–418.Schieder, Wolfgang (2004). Adolf Butenandt und die Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft: Wissenschaft, Industrie und Politik im "Dritten Reich". Göttingen: Wallstein-Verlag. p. 450. ISBN 3-89244-752-7.

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