Kurt Alder

Kurt Alder

Date of Birth: 10.07.1902
Country: Germany

  1. Biography of Kurt Alder
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Discovering the Diels-Alder Reaction
  4. Later Career and Legacy

Biography of Kurt Alder

Early Life and Education

German chemist Kurt Alder was born in Königshütte, Germany (now Hoździew, Poland), near Katowice. His father, Josef Alder, worked as a teacher in the area. Alder received his primary and secondary education in local schools. In the aftermath of World War I, just before Poland gained independence, the family moved to Kiel, Germany, to retain their German citizenship. In 1922, Alder completed his secondary school in Berlin and enrolled at the Berlin University to study chemistry. He continued his studies at the Christian Albrecht University (now Kiel University), where he worked under the supervision of Professor Otto Diels, an organic chemistry professor and director of the university's Chemical Institute. In 1926, Alder completed his dissertation on reactions with azodicarboxylic ester and earned his doctorate degree. He then became an assistant to Diels.

Discovering the Diels-Alder Reaction

The following year, Alder and Diels embarked on studying the diene synthesis. They found that diene hydrocarbons, which are compounds with a four-membered carbon chain containing two double bonds separated by a single bond, readily formed stable six-membered cycles when combined with dienophiles. They discovered that this reaction could easily occur between various diene hydrocarbons and dienophiles present in living systems, resulting in a potentially vast array of different molecules. The Diels-Alder reaction, which Alder and Diels first reported in 1928, later became a fundamental approach for chemists to study the mechanism of many previously unexplored organic reactions and laid the foundations for polymer chemistry. The Diels-Alder reaction is utilized in the industrial production of pharmaceuticals, dyes, lubricants, insecticides, synthetic rubbers, and plastics. Alder and Diels continued their work on clarifying the nature of diene synthesis for the next eight years.

Later Career and Legacy

In 1930, Alder was appointed as a lecturer in organic chemistry at Kiel University and became an associate professor in 1934. As an expert in diene synthesis, he was offered the position of head of the research department at IG Farbenindustrie AG, located in Leverkusen, which he accepted in 1936. In Leverkusen, Alder studied the interaction of conjugated butadiene (a type of diene hydrocarbon) with various dienophiles, particularly styrene, which resulted in the formation of synthetic rubber. He also analyzed the mechanisms of the reactions he conducted.

Returning to academic work in 1940, Alder was appointed as the head of experimental chemistry and chemical technology at the University of Cologne. He also became the director of the Chemical Institute at the university. Alder focused on the application of diene synthesis to clarify the chemical composition of complex natural products, such as terpenes (isomeric hydrocarbons found in coniferous oils), ergosterol (a precursor of vitamin D), and vitamin D. Alder, a highly skilled stereochemist, was also interested in understanding why specific reaction products formed when multiple isomers were possible.

In 1949, the same year he became the dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cologne, Alder and Diels were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for their discovery and development of the diene synthesis." In his Nobel Lecture, Alder provided an overview of his scientific research that led to the discovery and described the structural factors that determine the formation of specific configurations. He emphasized that the selective steric property of the diene synthesis is "one of the decisive factors that determine the value of the diene synthesis as a method." He stated that without the discovery of the diene synthesis, scientists would never have known that it could be used to obtain and separate substances from mixtures, making it a unique means to identify specific types of substances.

After receiving the Nobel Prize, Alder continued his teaching and research, exploring further potential applications of diene synthesis in industrial settings. In 1955, he signed a declaration alongside 17 other Nobel laureates, calling for all countries to condemn war as an instrument of foreign policy. Alder, deeply dedicated to his work, never married. In 1957, a doctor diagnosed him with a weakened body, and he was advised to take complete rest. Alder passed away the following year at the age of 55. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Alder received the Emil Fischer Medal from the German Chemical Society in 1938. He was awarded honorary degrees from the Medical Faculty of the University of Cologne in 1950 and the University of Salamanca in 1954. Alder was a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.