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Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert

Category: Scientist

Albert Szent-Györgyi ( 1893 –1986) was a Hungarian physiologist.  He  was born in Budapest, the son of a line of Calvinists who could trace their ancestry back to 1608 when Sámuel, a Calvinist predicant, was ennobled.  His family included three generations of scientists many of whom were also musically gifted.  Albert himself was good at the piano, while his brother Pál became a professional violinist.  So what we can see is that we have an intellectual family, genetically disposed to have spiritual input and one that is both left brained [intellect reason] and right brained [music, imagination inspiration].

Szent-Györgyi began his studies at the Semmelweis University in 1911, but soon became bored with classes and began research in his uncle's anatomy lab. His studies were interrupted in 1914 to serve as an army medic in World War I. In 1916, disgusted with the war, Szent-Györgyi shot himself in the arm, claimed to be wounded from enemy fire, and was sent home on medical leave. He was then able to finish his medical education and received his MD in 1917. 

Szent-Györgyi began his research career in Bratislava, finally ending up at the University of Groningen, where his work focused on the chemistry of cellular respiration. This work landed him a position as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow at Cambridge University. He received his PhD from Cambridge in 1927 for work on isolating an organic acid, which he then called "hexuronic acid", "hexuronic acid" became known as vitamin C.

Szent-Györgyi also continued his work on cellular respiration, identifying fumaric acid and other steps in what would become known as the Krebs cycle.

In 1937, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion process with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid". Albert Szent-Györgyi offered all of his Nobel prize money to Finland in 1940. (The Hungarian Volunteers in the Winter War travelled to fight for the Finns after the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939.)

In 1938, he began work on the biophysics of muscle movement. He found that muscles contain actin, which when combined with the protein myosin and the energy source ATP, contract muscle fibres.

During the war, Szent-Györgyi helped his Jewish friends escape from the country and joined the Hungarian resistance movement. He spent 1944 to 1945 as a fugitive from the Gestapo.

Dissatisfied with the Communist rule of Hungary, he emigrated to the United States in 1947, where he established the Institute for Muscle Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  During the 1950s, Szent-Györgyi began using electron microscopes to study muscles. He received the Lasker Award in 1954. In 1955, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1956.

In the late 1950s, Szent-Györgyi developed a research interest in cancer.   After Szent-Györgyi commented on his financial hardships in a 1971 newspaper interview, attorney Franklin Salisbury contacted him and later helped him establish a private nonprofit organization, the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Late in life, Szent-Györgyi began to pursue free radicals as a potential cause of cancer. He came to see cancer as being ultimately an electronic problem at the molecular level.

He died in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on October 22, 1986.


  • On Oxidation, Fermentation, Vitamins, Health, and Disease (1940)
  • Bioenergetics (1957)
  • Introduction to a Submolecular Biology (1960)
  • The Crazy Ape(1970)
  • What next?!(1971)
  • Electronic Biology and Cancer: A New Theory of Cancer (1976)
  • The living state (1972)
  • Bioelectronics: a study in cellular regulations, defense and cancer
  • Lost in the Twentieth Century(Gandu) (1963)


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