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Edgar Heilbronner (1921Ц2006).

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Edgar Heilbronner (1921–2006)
Edgar Heilbronner[*] passed away in
Herrliberg, Switzerland, on August 28,
2006, aged 85, following a long battle
with failing health.
Born in Munich
(Germany), Heilbronner came to
Switzerland in 1934
and completed his
schooling at the
Coll/ge de Gen/ve.
From 1940 to 1945,
with interruptions,
he studied chemistry at the ETH Z4rich and continued
there with graduate work on azulene
chemistry at Leopold Ruzicka8s Organic
Chemistry Laboratory under the direction of Placidus P. Plattner. After
obtaining his doctorate, his interests in
theoretical and structural chemistry led
him to Linus Pauling8s research group at
the California Institute of Technology,
where he learned the techniques of gasphase electron diffraction with Verner
Schomaker and Kenneth Hedberg. He
then returned to the ETH, and climbed
the ranks from Privatdozent (1954) and
extraordinary professor (1959) to be
appointed Professor for Theoretical
Organic Chemistry in 1964. In 1968,
Heilbronner moved to the University of
Basel as Professor of Physical Chemistry
and Director of the Physical Chemistry
Institute, where he remained until his
retirement in 1988.
Heilbronner8s early work was concerned mainly with the relationships
between the structures and spectra of
aromatic organic molecules, a combination of theory—mainly H4ckel molecular orbital theory—and experiment.
He was rapidly recognized as a world
expert in this area, and there is the story
that during a visit to Longuett-Higgins8s
Theoretical Chemistry Institute in Cambridge he was told by another visitor,
not knowing Edgar8s identity, that if he
wanted to learn about organic molecular
spectra he should go not to Cambridge
but to Heilbronner8s laboratory in
Z4rich. After the move to Basel, Heilbronner8s group established itself in the
[*] Photo courtesy of Dr. M. V. Kisakrek.
developing field of photoelectron
spectroscopy and achieved again world
preeminence in that area.
Heilbronner8s scientific contributions include more than 300 publications, many of which are highly cited. He
published mostly in the journal Helvetica Chimica Acta, which he served as
chief editor for many years. During that
time, he helped to transform the journal
from a mainly Swiss journal, published
only in the languages spoken in Switzerland (German, French, Italian), into a
major international journal. One of his
early papers is the brief note published
in 1964 in Tetrahedron Letters, entitled
“Hckel Molecular Orbitals of MoebiusType Conformations of Annulenes”.[1]
This paper, published shortly before
the announcement of the Woodward–
Hoffmann rules for electrocyclic reactions,[2] was soon recognized by Zimmerman[3] as providing the basis for an
alternative formulation of those rules.
Only recently has the first stable Moebius-type molecule been obtained
experimentally in confirmation of Heilbronner8s insight almost forty years earlier.[4]
Heilbronner8s gifts as teacher were
legendary. Not only in the classroom
with students but also almost anywhere
with colleagues, he could explain difficult theoretical points with patience,
precision, and a characteristic dash of
humor. His book (with Bock) on H4ckel
molecular orbital theory[5] instantly
became the standard work on the subject, and his short introduction to symmetry in chemistry (with Dunitz)[6] takes
the reader on a journey from the mountain-lake landscapes of Ferdinand
Hodler through chirality to irreducible
representations and the Woodward–
Hoffmann rules. He was a fascinating
personality, an authority on matters of
literature, music, art, and history. He
was a skilled writer of humorous verse
(in several languages), a fabricator of
fables and cautionary tales for children,
and an accomplished cartoonist. He was
an expert cook with a discriminating
taste in wines. Besides all this, his
interest in the history of science led
him to a vast collection of postage
stamps illustrating scientific concepts
and personalities, and to a most entertaining and instructive book on the
2006 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
Heilbronner8s scientific contributions were honored with numerous
national and international awards. He
was awarded the Marcel Benoist Prize
by the Swiss Confederation, the August
Wilhelm von Hofmann Medal by the
German Chemical Society, and the
Heyrovsky Medal by the Czechoslovak
Academy of Science. He held honorary
doctorates from the universities of
Durham (England) and Fribourg (Switzerland), and was elected Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as
Corresponding Member of the GJttingen Academy of Sciences.
In 1947, Edgar was a victim of a
traffic accident in Z4rich which cost him
the loss of a leg and thus limited his
mobility for the rest of his life. He bore
this burden with dignity. He was a
marvellous host to a wide circle of
international colleagues, visitors, and
friends, and was ably supported in this
respect by his wife Ruth. In his final
years, failing health and strength limited
his social and scientific contacts to a
smaller, more intimate circle. He will be
sorely missed not only by his family but
also by countless friends and colleagues
all over the world.
Jack D. Dunitz
ETH Zrich
[1] E. Heilbronner, Tetrahedron Lett. 1964,
29, 1923 – 1928.
[2] R. B. Woodward, R. Hoffmann, J. Am.
Chem. Soc. 1965, 87, 395 – 397.
[3] H. E. Zimmerman, J. Am. Chem. Soc.
1966, 88, 1564 – 1565; H. E. Zimmerman,
J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1966, 88, 1566-1567;
H. E. Zimmerman, Acc. Chem. Res. 1971,
4, 272 – 280.
[4] D. Ajami, O. Oeckler, A. Simon, R.
Herges, Nature 2003, 426, 819 – 822.
[5] E. Heilbronner, H. Bock, Das HMOModell und seine Anwendung, Volumes 1–3, VCH, Weinheim, 1970.
[6] E. Heilbronner, J. D. Dunitz, Reflections
on Symmetry In Chemistry … and Elsewhere, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 1993.
[7] E. Heilbronner, F. A. Miller, A Philatelic
Ramble through Chemistry, Wiley-VCH,
Weinheim, 2003.
DOI: 10.1002/anie.200603850
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2006, 45, 6784
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