Fritz Pregl

The Austrian physiologist and medical chemist Fritz Pregl (1869-1930) developed the methods of quantitative organic microanalysis.

Fritz Pregl was born on Sept. 3, 1869, in Laibach, now Ljubljana in Yugoslavia, but then a provincial capital in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the death of his father, a bank official, he moved in 1887 with his mother to Graz, the seat of a university. There he studied medicine and obtained his medical degree in 1894.

As a student, Pregl had been interested in physiology and upon graduation became a teaching assistant in the Physiological Institute of the university. He remained in this field as he rose on the academic ladder to attain the rank of associate professor in 1904. However, he had meanwhile also been attracted to, and become quite adept in, organic chemical laboratory research, and indeed his publications from that period reveal a strong predilection for the chemical aspects of physiology as well as for the methodological. This partial switch in his research interests became complete when, after taking a long leave of absence, he transferred his activities to the Institute of Medical Chemistry in Graz. In 1910 Pregl was called to the University of Innsbruck as full professor and head of the Institute of Medical Chemistry, only to return 3 years later in the same capacity to Graz, where he remained until his death on Dec. 13, 1930.

Pregl's great contribution to chemistry and medical science was the creation, in the years 1910-1917, of the methods of quantitative organic microanalysis. This made it possible to determine quantitatively the elements and some functional groups in organic compounds in samples weighing far less (3-5 milligrams) than was required in the procedures previously in use (100-200 milligrams).

Pregl's micromethods quickly became an invaluable tool to the organic chemist and a truly indispensable one to the biochemist. The micromethods greatly aided and accelerated the elucidation of the chemical structure of many biologically active substances of natural origin, such as hormones and vitamins, and were generally instrumental in the solution of a host of important biochemical problems. Of the many scientific honors bestowed on Pregl in recognition of this achievement, the most outstanding was the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1923.

Pregl was an inspiring teacher who knew how to flavor his lectures with instructive experiments as well as with humor. In the 1920s chemists from all over the world flocked to his laboratory to receive instruction in microanalysis, often by him personally, in courses given practically free of charge.


Further Reading on Fritz Pregl

A good profile of Pregl is in Eduard Farber, ed., Great Chemists (1961). There are also short biographies in Aaron J. Ihde, The Development of Modern Chemistry (1964), and Nobel Foundation, Chemistry: Including Presentation Speeches and Laureates' Biographies, vol. 2 (1966).