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PERSPECTIVES IN BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE Volume I · Number 4 · Summer 1958 A SCIENTIFIC CAREER GEORGE HEVESY, Ph.D. {hon.), D.Sc. {hon.), M.D. {hon.)* I was born in Budapest the ist ofAugust, 1885. After terminating my studies at the Gymnasium ofthe Piarist Order in that city, I studied a short time in Berlin and later in Freiburg, mainly chemistry and physics, where I took my degree in 1908 and received an honorary degree forty years later. The subject ofmy doctoral thesis was the interaction between metallic sodium and molten sodium hydroxide, an interaction responsible for a poor yield often obtained when producing sodium by electrolysis of molten sodium hydroxide. Being interested in high-temperature chemistry, after obtaining my degree , I proceeded to Zurich to work under Richard Lorenz, the then most eminent representative of that branch of science. The Technical Highschool ofZurich was in those days, as it is today, a great place oflearning and teaching. The Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical industry could not have reached that very high standard it represents today without the aid of a great number of able chemists, most of them trained at the Technical Highschool ofZurich. When Ijoined that institution, the permanent head ofthe chemistry department was Willstätter. Einstein's First Lecture Shortly after my arrival at Zurich, Einstein was appointed associate professor oftheoretical physics in the university ofthat city. I was one ofthe audience ofabout twenty who attended his inaugural lecture on the determination of the ratio of charge and mass of the electron. (Einstein left after a few years for Prague and returned later to Zurich to fill the chair of theoretical physics in the Technical Highschool.) When Einstein visited our laboratory, I had the privilege to show him round. I remember vividly * 18 Norr Mälarstrand, Stockholm K, Sweden. 345 his astonishment upon being shown a hydrogen electrode. He thought such an electrode to be a fiction only. Twenty-three years later, after terminating my Baker lectureship in the Cornell University at Ithaca, I met Einstein at Pasadena. I visited a barber shop whose owner, a son ofthe City ofConstance, praised the beauties of life in California, mentioning that his only wish in life was to be permitted once to cut Einstein's hair. I told him that this wish would not be easy to fulfill as, according to rumors, it was Mrs. Einstein who performed this work. When I told Einstein about the barber's wish, he remarked: "Da er sich auf Ihrem Kopfe nicht austoben konnte, wollte er meinen Kopf haben" ("As he could not sufficiently exercise himselfon your head [I had poor hair] he wants to have mine"). Einstein talked repeatedly to me on the problem of causality. He disagreed with Bohr's views on this topic. He asked me to take over a message to Bohr. He wished an explanation on a classical basis. When Lorenz left Zurich for the University ofFrankfurt (incidentally, I was asked after his death to fill his chair, which I could not accept), Willstätter called on me to make the short statement: "In Germany the assistant belongs to the professor, in Switzerland to the laboratory—you stay here." 1 did not, as I got much interested in the catalytic synthesis of ammonia by Haber, a discovery which at that date rightly impressed deeply all those interested in chemistry. My monthly salary in Zurich ofthe equal of $36 was entirely adequate, as I was charged for a very nice room and two good meals $15 a month. When I was promoted to a "first assistant," I was told that my salary would be raised to $60 a month, the highest sum ever allotted an assistant. When I was leaving the laboratory one evening together with Willstätter , he told me that he was moving to Berlin to take over one ofthe Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes. I asked him, much astonished, why he was leaving. He was the permanent chiefof the chemistry faculty and had a very fine laboratory and postgraduate students from all over the world were anxious to work under his guidance. His answer was: "Ifthe fatherland calls, my duty is to go." Thirty-two years later I was present...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 345-365
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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