Kurt Alder – Biography
was born in Königshütte, Upper Silesia, on the 10th of July 1902.
His childhood and school years were spent in these industrial
surroundings, but after the end of the First World War he was forced
to leave his home, due to political circumstances.
reading chemistry at Berlin University in 1922, and later continued
these studies at Kiel, where he obtained his degree of Ph.D. in
1926. The thesis for the doctorate, on which Alder worked under O.
Diels, was entitled: Über die Ursachen der Azoester-reaktion
(On the causes of the azoester reaction).
In 1930 Alder was
appointed reader for chemistry by the Faculty of Philosophy at Kiel University;
promotion to lecturer followed in 1934. Alder left Kiel in 1936 to
take up the appointment as head of department in the science
laboratories of the I. G. Farben-Industrie, at their works in
Leverkusen, where he worked on the preparation and constitution of
synthetic rubber ("Buna"). By this work some of his earlier
interests were reawakened and stimulated.
In 1940 Alder was
appointed to the Chair for Experimental Chemistry and Chemical
Technology at Cologne University and also became Principal of
the Institute of Chemistry. He received invitations from Berlin
University in 1944 and from the University of Marburg in 1950, but declined
As early as 1927-1928, whilst at Kiel, Alder had
studied problems of systematic organic chemistry in collaboration
with his teacher O. Diels, and this lead to their joint discovery of
the principle of the diene-synthesis, which they investigated and
determined in all its aspects. At the same time Alder also worked in
collaboration with younger colleagues on extensive stereochemical
investigations, prompted by selection phenomena during organic
chemical reactions, particularly in unsaturated systems. A series of
other problems, such as the behaviour of double bonds in stressed
carbon rings and the phenomena of intermolecular rearrangements,
Although conditions in Cologne during the
1940's were not favourable for scientific research, Alder was
nevertheless able to continue his original work systematically and
even discover relationships which were decisive for future
developments. These are characterized by the transition from pure
additive processes, of which the diene-synthesis is the most
important, to processes of substitution. The purpose of these
investigations was the analysis and the elimination of the dualism
existing between addition and substitution. These studies covered a
wide field and include also the reaction of molecular oxygen on
Kurt Alder's investigations have been
described in about 150 papers, which were published mainly in
Justus Liebig's Annalen der Chemie, in the Berichte der
Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft and in Angewandte
In recognition of his work, Alder received the
Emil Fischer Memorial Medal from the Association of German Chemists,
in 1938. In the same year he became a member of the Kaiserlich
Leopold.-Karol.-Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher (Imperial
Leopold.-Karol.-German Academy of Natural Philosophers) in Halle.
The Medical Faculty of the University of Cologne conferred the
honorary degree of M.D. on Alder in 1950, and in 1954 he received
the honorary doctorate of the University of Salamanca.
From Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1942-1962,
Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1964
was written at the time of the award and later published in the book
Lectures. The information is sometimes updated with an
addendum submitted by the Laureate. To cite this document, always
state the source as shown above.
Kurt Alder died on June 20, 1958.