Plimmer Papers

Scope and Content

Notebooks and certificate relating to Robert Henry Aders Plimmer, 1900-1913:

One notebook from the University of Geneva, in French, 1900-1901

One notebook from the University of Berlin, in German, 1901-1903 showing courses attended by Plimmer

One certificate issued by the University of Berlin, in German, 1901

One letter to Plimmer from (Herman) Emil Fischer, in German, 13 Feb 1913.

Administrative / Biographical History

Plimmer, Robert Henry Aders (1877-1955), biochemist, was born at Elberfeld, Germany, on 25 April 1877, the eldest son of Alfred Aders (d. 1885), a Manchester businessman, and his German wife and first cousin, Bertha Helena Aders. The child was brought to England when a few months old, and soon afterwards the Aders settled in Surrey on the southern outskirts of London. Alfred Aders died in 1885 and in 1887 his widow married Henry George Plimmer FRS (1857-1918), who later became professor of comparative pathology at Imperial College. By example and advice Plimmer greatly influenced the lives and characters of the Aders children, especially the eldest son, who later acknowledged his indebtedness by adopting the surname of Plimmer by the wish of his stepfather.

Educated at Dulwich College and University College, London, where he studied chemistry under William Ramsay, Plimmer graduated BSc in 1899; then, on his stepfather's advice, turned his attention to the chemistry of living organisms. A year at Geneva University was followed by two years at Berlin University under Emil Fischer, where began his lifelong interest in the chemistry of proteins. He obtained a PhD (Berlin) and DSc (London) in 1902, and was awarded a Grocers' Company research studentship which enabled him to work for two years at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. His work in Germany was summarized in his book 'The Chemical Changes and Products Resulting from Fermentations' (1903).

In 1904 Plimmer returned to University College as an assistant in the department of physiology under W M Bayliss, and E H Starling. His duties were to teach physiological chemistry and to engage in research. Practical notes for his students developed into a textbook of Organic and Bio-Chemistry (1915) and his contributions to scientific journals drew attention to his researches into the chemistry of proteins. With Frederick Gowland Hopkins he was co-editor of an extremely valuable series of monographs on biochemistry to which he himself contributed 'The Chemical Constitution of the Proteins' (1908).

Plimmer was elected a fellow of University College in 1906, assistant professor of physiological chemistry in 1907, and university reader in 1912. In the same year he married Violet Geraldine (d. 1949), daughter of Frederick Sheffield, solicitor; they had one son and three daughters. He and his friend J A Gardner were the co-founders in 1911 of the Biochemical Club, which became the society in 1913. Plimmer was the first secretary (1911-1919), was made an honorary member (1943), and wrote the History of the Biochemical Society (1949).

During the First World War, Plimmer, with the rank of captain, was attached to the directorate of hygiene at the War Office, and analysed common foodstuffs, the results being published in 1921 as 'Analyses and Energy Values of Foods'. This work stimulated his interest in nutrition, and in 1919 he left University College to become head of the biochemical department at the Rowett Institute for Research in Animal Nutrition, Aberdeen, where he was able to take part in feeding experiments on a large scale. But in 1922 he returned to London as professor of chemistry at St Thomas's Hospital medical school, a position which he filled with great distinction for twenty-one years.

Plimmer reached retirement age in 1942, when he was made honorary consulting chemist to the hospital; in 1944 the title of professor emeritus of chemistry was conferred upon him by the University of London. In January 1943 he joined the staff of the British Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, to assist Professor E J King in the biochemistry department. It was intended to be a temporary appointment but lasted for more than twelve years. He died in Hammersmith Hospital, London, on 18 June 1955.

Access Information


The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

Given by Pauline Meadow of the Biochemistry Department.

Other Finding Aids

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