Barger, George

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(b. Manchester, England. 4 April 1878; d. Aeschi. Switzerland. 6 January 1939)

organic chemistry.

Barger was the eldest son of Gerrit Barger, a Dutch engineer, and Eleanor Higginbotham, an Englishwoman. After receiving his initial schooling at Utrecht, he studied at University College, London, and King’s College, Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1901 with first-class honors in both chemistry and botany. In 1903 he accepted a position as chemist at the Wellcome Physiological Research Laboratories. Barger taught at Goldsmith’s College (1909–1913) and at the Royal Holloway College (1913-1914). He spent the war years on the staff of the Medical Research Committee, and in 1919 he was appointed the first professor of chemistry in relation to medicine at Edinburgh. He held this post until 1937. when he accepted the regius professorship of chemistry at Glasgow.

Barger’s scientific work centered on the isolation, structure determination, synthesis, and pharmacological importance of alkaloids and of naturally occurring amino acid degradation products. His first major research project was an analysis of the physiologically active components of ergot. In 1906 he and F. H, Carr announced the first isolation of an active ergot alkaloid, which they named “ergotoxine” (later shown to be a mixture of three alkaloids). Subsequently, Barger and his associates isolated and identified tyramine, histamine, and other amino acid derivatives from ergot extracts. In 1910 he and the physiologist Henry Dale pub-Hslied a detailed investigation into the pharmacological activity of these and other amines, in a partially successful attempt to correlate activity with molecular structure. They termed these substances “sympathomimetic” amines, since their action resembled that of the sympathetic nervous system, Barger also played an essential role, principally in an advisory capacity, in C. R. Harington’s synthesis of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (1927). Harington persuaded his former teacher to agree to joint publication of the final stage of the work.

Although his work often had important biochemical and pharmacological significance. Barger always considered himself to be fundamentally an organic chemist. A skillful experimenter, cautious toward hypotheses, he maintained a strictly mechanistic philosophy.


I. Original Works. Barger wrote four books: The Simpler Natural Bases (London, 1914); Some Applica tions of Organic Chemistry to Biology and Medicine: The George Fisher Baker Non-Resident Lectureship in Chemistry at Cornell University [1927-1928] (New York, 1930): Ergot and Ergotism: Based on the Dohme Lectures Delivered in Johns Hopkins University, Balti-more [ 1928] (London, 1931); and Organic Chemistry for Medical Students (London, 1932; 2nd ed,, 1936). In addition. Barger was author or coauthor of well over 100 scientific publications. The majority of these appeared in journal of the Chemical Society: papers dealing with pharmacological aspects frequently appeared in Biochemical Journal or Journal of Physiology, A complete list of Barger’s publications is in Dale’s obituary notice (see below).

II.Secondary Literature. The best sources for information concerning Barger’s life are biographical memoirs written by two of his collaborators: H, H. Dale, in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Soei-ety of London, 3 (1940), 63–85; and C. R, Harington, in Journal of the Chemical Society (1939), 715 – 721, repr,, with minor changes, in A- Findlay and W, H, Mills, eds., British Chemists (London, 1947),419-43L Poggendorff (VIIb. 241) lists several obituaries. The best summaries of Barger’s scientific work are his own monographic treatment, which deal with his fields of specialization in a thorough and impartial manner, The two biographical memoirs also contain discussions of Barger’s scientific career from the point of view of his associates. For a historical discussion of the significance of Barger and Dale’s 19 10 paper on the sympathomimetic amines, see B. Holrnstedt and G. Liljestrand, Readings in Pharma-cology (New York, 1963), 169 – 201.

Alan J. Rocke