Erika Cremer, tireless scientist and sadly forgotten

Erika Cremer

20 de mayo de 1900, en Munich (Alemania) – 21 de septiembre de 1996, en Innsbruck (Austria)

He was born into a family of scientists and university professors, his father was a professor of physiology and inventor of the glass electrode.

When she was little her father got a new position in Berlin so they had to move. Erika had trouble adjusting to the new school system and she graduated from Berlin High School in 1921.

He subsequently enrolled at the University of Berlin to study chemistry and was able to attend lectures by Fritz Haber, Walther Nernst, Max Planck, Max von Laue, and Albert Einstein. He received his Ph.D. magna cum laude in 1927, under the supervision of Max Bodenstein (the first to postulate a chain reaction mechanism).

He was able to publish a paper on his thesis dealing with the kinetics of the hydrogen-chlorine reaction, only because he concluded that the reaction was a chain reaction, which was still considered a very new concept at the time. For this article and her work on kinetics, Nikolay Semyonov invited her to work in Leningrad but she turned down the offer and remained in Germany to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry, in the department of electrochemistry with Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer to analyze quantum theoretical problems. of photochemistry.

Erika received a fellowship at the University of Freiburg with George Hevesy to study the decomposition of alcohols using oxide catalysts. She did not go for a long time and she returned to Berlin to work with Michael Polanyi at the Haber Institute, where they investigated the conversion of hydrogen and ortho-hydrogen in a spin state to para-hydrogen.

In 1933, the Nazi party comes to power in Germany and the institute is dissolved due to its anti-Nazi reputation. After that, Ella Erika was unable to find a job or continue her research.

In 1937, he returned to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry to collaborate with Otto Hahn in studying traces of radioactive compounds. Shortly thereafter he changed laboratories to concentrate on isotope separation.

In 1938, the University of Berlin gave her the qualification that would lead to a teaching position, however, the Nazi government at the time had passed a law on the legal status of public servants that prohibited women from holding positions of responsibility such as chairs and required women to resign once married. For this reason, many scientists and academics were left unemployed or limited in their professional future.

In 1940, after the Second World War began, male scientists and professors were recruited, which led to Erika being able to obtain a teaching position at the University of Innsbruck (Austria). However, it was temporary because once the war was over and the men returned home, she would have to leave her job.

At Innsbruck he investigated the hydrogenation of acetylene, but had trouble separating two gases with similar heats of adsorption using known methods. His own university was doing research on liquid absorption chromatography and that gave him an idea to devise another gas separation method using an inert carrier gas as the mobile phase. For this purpose, he developed mathematical relationships and equations and instrumentation for the first gas chromatograph.

In 1944, he tried to publish an article about his discoveries, but the printing press was destroyed during an aerial bombardment and it could not be done until 32 years later, in 1976, at which point it was considered a historical document.

That same year, 1944, the university facilities were also severely damaged in an aerial bombardment and at the end of the war, Erika, as a German citizen, was not allowed to use the few facilities that remained. Fritz Prior was one of her students and also a high school chemistry teacher who chose Cremer's gas chromatograph idea for her dissertation. So until the university facilities were operational again, Cremer and Fritz collaborated in the high school lab to continue their studies. When the university partially reopened, Erika still couldn't claim her citizenship so she secretly visited the university in a delivery truck to further her investigation.

In 1945, she was able to return to the university legally, and she and Fritz were able to complete a very novel method for qualitative and quantitative measurements and analysis in 1947. This was completed with a thesis by another of her students, Roland Müller, on the analytical possibilities of the chromatograph. of gases.

Erika Cremer was appointed professor and director of the Institute of Chemistry in Innsbruck in 1951.

Cromatografía de gases de Erika Cremer

He presented his findings and those of his students in various articles and scientific meetings but the community responded negatively, believing that the methods used so far were sufficient.

In 1952, Anthony Trafford James and Archer Porter Martin and, in 1953, J. Janak claimed the invention of gas chromatography.

In 1952, Martin and his partner Richard Laurence Millington Synge won the Nobel Prize for partition chromatography, which is often credited with introducing the use of gas as a mobile phase (the brainchild of Erika Cremer).

It is believed that Cremer's work was not taken into account because he did not expose his ideas to the right people and in the right places. Austrian scientists were not focused on gases, so his proposals did not have much interest and communication between scientists after the war was quite poor.

Cremer y sus estudiantes continuaron su trabajo en el desarrollo de los métodos y las teorías detrás de la cromatografía de gases durante las siguientes dos décadas por lo que ganó poco a poco más reconocimiento.

They coined the concept "relative retention time" and how to calculate the peak area by multiplying the height of the peak by the width of the peak at half height in gas chromatography. Furthermore, they demonstrated the relationship between measurement and column temperature and also invented headspace analysis.

She retired in 1971 although she remained active in gas chromatography until almost the end of her life.

In 1990, an international symposium was held in Innsbruck to celebrate his work and his ninetieth birthday. He died in 1996.

In 2009, the University of Innsbruck established a program in her name that rewards highly qualified women scientists.

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