Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Switzerland 2011 International Year of Chemistry - Vitamin C

The Swiss Post features the molecular structure of Vitamin C on their stamp celebrating the International Year of Chemistry (IYC). Vitamin C is probably the best-known vitamin and is regarded as the health remedy par excellence. The story of its discovery dates back to the middle ages, when sailors on long sea voyages of discovery inadvertently succumbed to scurvy because nobody understood the problem of vitamin C deficiency. Though the link between scurvy and the consumption of citrus fruits and fresh vegetables was understood as early as the 16th century, it was only two hundred years later that the
diet of sailors was supplemented with sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) and lemon or lime juice, thus curbing scurvy outbreaks.

In 1933, Tadeus Reichstein, a Polish-born chemist working at the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology, managed to produce synthetic ascorbic acid in bulk cheaply, based on a combined chemical and bacterial fermentation process. That same year, Reichstein sold his patent for synthetic vitamin C to Hoffmann-La Roche, the Basel pharmaceutical company, which sold the synthetic Vitamin C under the brand name Redoxon.

Albert Szent-Györgyi was awarded the 1937 Nobel Prize in Medicine for isolating hexuronic acid as the anti-scorbutic (anti-scurvy) factor, which was later identified as Vitamin C or ascorbic acid. The shared 1937 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Walter Norman Haworth for his work in the identification and synthesis of Vitamin C, Haworth's award was celebrated by another stamp, the 10p stamp in Great Britain 1977 issue celebrating the 100th anniversary of Royal Institute of Chemistry.

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