Otto Diels – Biography
Otto Paul Hermann
Diels was born in Hamburg, Germany, on January 23, 1876. When he
was two years of age the family moved to Berlin, where his father
was appointed to a professorship. His early education, from 1882 to
1895, was at the Joachimsthalsches Gymnasium, Berlin. In 1895 he
went to Berlin University where he studied chemistry, together with
other science subjects, under Emil
Fischer, graduating in 1899. He was at once appointed assistant
at the Institute of Chemistry at Berlin University, becoming a
lecturer in 1904. Promotion to Professor followed in 1906, and he
was appointed Head of Department in 1913. He became Professor at the
University of Berlin in 1915 but, the following year, moved to the
Kiel as Professor and Director of the Institute of Chemistry.
There he remained until his retirement in 1945.
research was in the field of inorganic chemistry, where he was the
discoverer of an oxide of carbon having some unusual properties -
carbon suboxide. His subsequent work was in the domain of organic
chemistry. He was responsible for introducing the use of selenium as
a specific reagent for the dehydrogenation of hydroaromatic
compounds (1927). This proved to be a very useful tool in
elucidating chemical structures in the complicated steroid series,
where his name is associated with the hydrocarbon
3'-methyl-1,2-cyclopentenophenanthrene. Diels obtained this skeletal
steroid structure by dehydrogenating cholesterol, and other members
of the series, with selenium.
His best known work was done in
collaboration with Kurt Alder on the chemical reaction which bears
their joint names (1928). This, sometimes known also as the diene
synthesis, consists in the reaction of a diene with a second
component which has carbonyl or carboxyl groups adjoining an
ethylenic bond, to give unsaturated cyclic compounds. As the two
reactants can be varied widely within the scope of this definition,
a very large range of new compounds can be prepared. The reaction
takes place without the need for forcing conditions and, by its use,
many complicated natural products, and modifications thereof, may be
Diels was the author of the Einführung in die
organische Chemie (1907), which went through fifteen editions.
He had many papers published, mostly in German scientific
periodicals such as Liebigs Annalen der Chemie.
his earliest awards was in 1904, when he was awarded a Gold Medal at
the St. Louis (USA) International Exhibition. He won the Adolf v.
Baeyer Medallion in 1930 and the Grosskreuz des Verdienstordens der
Bundesrepublik Deutschland in 1952. He held the honorary degree of
Doctor of Medicine from the University of Kiel and was a member of
the Academies of Halle, Munich, and Göttingen.
in 1909, Paula Geyer. They had three sons and two daughters; two of
their sons were killed in action during World War II. He was
interested in reading, music, and travel for his recreation, and, in
his younger days, he had been fond of mountaineering. He died on
March 7, 1954.
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.