Monday, June 21, 2021

The meandering paths of a Nobel-prize winning chemist

Via the New York Times, an interesting obituary of Richard Ernst with these fascinating details: 
He earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry at ETH Zurich in 1956 and then briefly served in the Swiss military before returning to ETH for a doctorate in physical chemistry, which he earned in 1962.

He married Magdalena Kielholz the next year. Survivors include his wife and their three children, Anna, Katharina and Hans-Martin. Matthias Ernst, his former student, said Dr. Ernst died in a retirement home.

In 1963, Dr. Ernst joined the technology company Varian Associates in Palo Alto, Calif., as a scientist. It was there that he developed F.T.-N.M.R.

I imagine his military service was just a couple of years - can't imagine what the chemical world would like if there was mandatory 2- or 3-year military service in the United States in modern times before they went to graduate school. Also interesting that Professor Ernst worked in industry before he became a professor!  


  1. Wasn't uncommon back then for scientists to go from industry -> academia. Prof. Olah was initially at Dow Chemicals in Canada before joining the Western Reserve University (which soon became Case Western Reserve University).

    1. Djerassi was at Ciba and Syntex before he joined the faculty at Stanford.

  2. Dick Schrock worked in industry for a while before becoming a professor.

    On the materials side of things, it's very common for profs to have spent time in industry. Ben Feringa, Craig Hawker, Joanna Aizenberg, and a number of others, were in industrial research centres before coming (back) to academia.

  3. actually Paul Lauterbur who invented MRI, for which he got Nobel, was inspired by his 2-year stint in the military. He was bored stiff as a chemist working on poison gases in Edgewood, MD, but their military research center was rich and let him buy an early NMR. Which he used for analysis of samples from lab animals poisoned by warfare agents. And he was dreaming about putting whole mice, even live, into the magnet. And all his colleagues called him crazy...

  4. The Swiss military has a somewhat unusual and peculiar system: It is a milita where an inital recruit training of 4-5 months (4 months back in Ernst's days), followed by annual training camps of 3 weeks. So not too much time wasted there


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20