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World Famous Inventors among the Members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences – Part 1

Albert Szent-Györgyi 

 

Albert Szent-Györgyi – to most people the first thing that comes to mind is Vitamin C and the Nobel Prize. His life, however, was more like and adventure story filled with unbelievable moments, discoveries, loves and afflictions. He lived to an amazing age, and this long life was marked with events that are sadly known to only a few. There are several interesting moments that could be highlighted in his life, we would like to introduce a few of these now.  

World Famous Inventors among the Members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Already as a youngster, he suffered from a serious condition.

During the time he spent at the Institute for Maritime and Tropical Diseases in Hamburg, he suffered from hunger related oedema.  Since the Institute was unable to pay salaries, they could not afford to buy enough food for themselves. Sacrificing his own health, Szent-Györgyi gave up his own food for his wife and child, and this is how he developed the condition.

 

His self-inflicted injure brought him home from war.

Albert Szent-Györgyi got so depressed about military service that having served two and a half years, he could see only one way out. He shot his own arm with his rifle also taking the risk of getting executed by hanging.

 

He was quite unlucky with the ladies.

He was married 4 times, but he had only one child. He first married at the age of 24 to Kornélia Demény, and together they had a daughter.  His wife left him a few years later, and he remarried, this time to a Márta Borbíró, a mother of two, which was considered to be quite scandalous at the time. His second wife was diagnosed with cancer and she died in 1963. Two years later he married again to Susan Wichterman, who was 47 years younger than him. Unfortunately, this marriage ended in divorce as well. His fourth and final marriage was with Marcia Houston, who was 50 (!!!) year younger, they got married in 1975.  

 

He made even Hitler angry.

Since he was one of the leaders of the Budapest Anti-Fascist Movement, Hitler personally issued the warrant to arrest Szent-Györgyi. Eventually, due to his connections with the Swedish Embassy and mainly his luck, he managed to flee from Budapest. Even the New York Times published an article about his escape. In retrospective, Szent-Györgyi thought of these series of scary event as one of the “main highlights” of his life.

 

He researched into the triggering factors of cancer.

He was the Director of Research at the Institute of Muscle Research in the United States between 1947 and 1962, where he was leading research into the causes of cancer through researching the factors that cause cell division. His interest in the triggering factors of cancer was most probably due to the fact that both his second wife as well as his daughter died of cancer.

 

He was awarded a Kossuth prize, which he did not receive.

He was first awarded a Kossuth prize in 1948, 15th, March. Hi did not live in Hungary at the time, and there is no record of the award anywhere. He never received this prize, and it cannot be known if he even knew about being awarded at all. 

 

His Nobel Prize is the result of a simple dinner.

Today’s Vitamin C was known as Hexuronic Acid. In 1930, Szent-Györgyi was conducting some researches in the United States, in a Chicago based slaughter house he was trying to extract Vitamin C from adrenal glands from cows, and from several tons he only managed to extract 25gramms of Hexuronic acid. He returned to Hungary disappointed, but he did not have to wait long before the break through. One evening he did not feel like eating the green paprika that was served for dinner. Not wanting to disappoint his wife, he secretly took the paprika into his laboratory. In 1931, Szent-Györgyi managed to extract ascorbic acid from the green paprika that is he managed to produce Vitamin C in a considerable dosage.  He is the only Hungarian Scientist who received the Nobel Prize for a scientific activity that was carried out in Hungary.  

 

He was considered among the possible winners of a second Nobel Prize.

Between 1940 and 1941 he was the rector of University of Szeged, where he was researching the biochemistry of muscle movements. The general opinion in the field was that he should be awarded for his discoveries as well, his most important result was the discovery of the protein-chemical background of mechanical muscle movement.

 

A dish has been named after him.

Chicken Paprikás Szent-Györgyi style was on the menu at the Palotaszálló restaurant in Lillafüred, which was first cooked by the chef at the restaurant upon the occasion of Szent-Györgyi’s winning the Nobel Prize, Szent-Györgyi thanked him in a reply letter.

 

He performed in the National Theatre of Budapest.

Szent-Györgyi liked to try himself in several areas: in Szeged, he performed in Shakespearean’s Hamlet, which became such a huge success, that the performance was brought to Budapest’s National Theatre and performed three more times.

 

Anti-war Activities

He spoke against the Vietnam War, and he strongly criticized the American government. His book "The Crazy Ape" is still one of the most significant books about the Anti-War Movement.

 

He took care of his health every day.

Professor Szent-Györgyi devoted almost two decades of his life to researching cancer. He believed that it was a curable disease and because of this reason he wanted to know the principle of the problem.  He was absolutely convinced that plants carry anti-cancer substances. This is why he devoted most of his research to studying wheatgrass and wheat germs. In his research, he attempted to combine elements of wheatgrass with Vitamin C, as in a few animal tests this proved to be working to cure cancer.  He himself consumed a daily dosage of Vitamin C as well. He was sure that his fitness and vitality were due to him taking the vitamin on a daily basis. He must have been right as he lived a long life, he died at the age of 93 in 1986, 22nd October in Woods Hall.  

 

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