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George Charles von Hevesy

(1885—1966) Hungarian-born radiochemist

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Hungarian-born Swedish chemist who was awarded the 1943 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on radioactive tracers.

The son of a wealthy industrialist, Hevesy was educated at the University of Freiburg, where he obtained his PhD in 1908. Thereafter, in a career much interrupted by war and politics, Hevesy worked in seven different countries. After brief periods in Zürich and Karlsruhe, Hevesy joined Rutherford in Manchester. There he was given the task of separating radioactive radium D from lead. As radium D is an isotope of lead, the chemical methods used by Hevesy proved unsuccessful. However, Hevesy realized that his apparent failure could be utilized to make an entirely new type of tracer. If radioactive lead and ordinary lead could not be distinguished chemically, the radioisotope could be used to monitor the path of lead through a complex system. By 1923 he had shown how radioactive lead could be used to label salts taken up by plants in solution; in 1934, using radioactive phosphorus, Hevesy applied his tracer technique for the first time to animals. This use of artificial radioisotopes enabled the technique to find very wide applications.

Hevesy left Manchester in 1913 for the University of Vienna but, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he returned to his native Budapest. After the war he worked in Copenhagen from 1920 to 1926, when he accepted the chair in physical chemistry at the University of Freiburg. Hevesy, however, abandoned Germany with the rise of Hitler and returned in 1934 to Denmark. Several years later the Germans caught up with him once again and in 1942 Hevesy left Denmark for the safety of Sweden, where he completed his academic career. Hevesy is also known for his discovery, in 1923, in collaboration with Dirk Coster (1889–1950), of the new element hafnium.

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