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Hevesy, George Charles de


HEVESY, GEORGE CHARLES DE (1885–1966), chemist, isotopes pioneer, and Nobel Prize winner. Hevesy was born in Budapest and studied there and in Berlin. After obtaining his doctorate at Freiburg he worked with Lorenz at the Technische Hochschule in Zurich, with *Haber at Karlsruhe, and with Rutherford in Manchester. In 1913 he started important work with F. *Paneth in Vienna on radioactive isotopes. This was the beginning of the use of radioactive tracers or "labeled atoms," an important tool in chemical and biological research. When war broke out in 1914, Hevesy joined the Austro-Hungarian army as technical supervisor of the state electrochemical plant in the Carpathians. After the war he returned to Budapest and resumed his studies of isotope tracers. In 1920 he joined Niels *Bohr at the new institute of theoretical physics in Copenhagen. There, together with D. Coster, he discovered a new element, no. 72, which he called hafnium. In 1923 he revealed in a paper the first use of radioactive tracers in a biological problem and in 1924 their first use in animal physiology. In 1926 Hevesy became professor at Freiburg; there he added a new field – X-ray fluorescence – as a method of analysis of trace materials in minerals, rocks, and meteorites. In 1934 his position was rendered intolerable by the Nazis; he resigned and returned to the Copenhagen institute. The discovery of artificial radioactive elements immensely enhanced the utility of the tracer technique in research work. After 1938 Hevesy gave his whole attention to the use of this tool in biochemical research. In 1943 Denmark, under Nazi occupation, became unsafe, and he followed Bohr by escaping in a fishing boat to Sweden. In 1943 he was awarded the Nobel Prize "for the use of isotopes as tracers in the study of chemical processes." After the war he remained in Stockholm, as professor in the institute of organic chemistry of the university. His biological work continued, largely on nucleic acids, the metabolism of iron and calcium, cancer anemia, and the effects of radiation. Among Hevesy's numerous other awards and honors were the "Pour le Mérite" from the German president Heuss and the Atoms for Peace Award (New York, 1959).


T. Levitan, Laureates: Jewish Winners of the Nobel Prize (1960), 43; Groth, in: Zeitschrift fuer Elektrochemie, 59 (1955), 823.

[Samuel Aaron Miller]

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