Vitamin C

discover: Szent-Györgyi Albert
time of discovery: 1932


About the discoverer

Albert Szent-Györgyi

He studied medicine at Semmelweis University where he graduated and received his MD in 1917. He took part in World War I as an army medic, but he got wounded and was sent home on medical leave. After that he studied in Bratislava, Prague, Berlin, Leiden and Groningen in the fields of biology, physiology, pharmacology, bacteriology and physical chemistry. Later he obtained his second doctorate from chemistry at the F.G. Hopkins Faculty of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. Then, with the support of E.C. Kendall, he worked in the United States of America for one year. He returned home after being invited back to the country by Mr. Klebelsberg, Cultural Minister of Hungary. From 1931 till 1945 he was professor at the Institute of Medical-Chemistry at the University of Szeged, and professor at the Faculty of Biochemistry at Semmelweis University between 1945 and 1947. At the end of 1947 he left the country and settled down in Woods Hole near Boston, where he was the director of the Institute for Muscle Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory from 1947 and 1962. Between 1962 and 1971 he was a professor at Darthmouth College, a leading college of the USA. Albert Szent-Györgyi always maintained his connections with Hungary, from the 1960s he carried out visits on a regular basis. He died on 22nd October 1986 in Woods Hole.

The isolation of Vitamin C

At the end of the 1920s Szent-Györgyi isolated an unknown material in the adrenal gland and called it hexuronic acid (1928). After returning home to Szeged he was looking for a vegetal source from which hexuronic acid can be extracted on a large scale. The Szeged paprika seemed to be perfect for that. They produced 6,5 gram hexuronic acid from 10 litres of paprika juice. In 1932 Szent –Györgyi – and apart from him also J. Tillmans – identified hexuronic acid with vitamin C. Upon his suggestion it was given the formal chemical name of L-ascorbic acid as a reference for its antiscorbutic properties. They also elaborated the production process of vitamin C using paprika as source.