Material relating to Ernst Chain and Anne Beloff-Chain

Scope and Content

This collection contains material relating to German-born biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Ernst Chain and his wife Anne Beloff-Chain. Ernst Chain came to England as a Jewish refugee in 1933. Included are press cuttings, announcements and an invitation to a family event, programmes for the scientific colloquium at Hoechst AG and anniversary of the births of Paul Ehrlich and Emil von Behring in 1954, and 'Formeln und Tafeln zum Preisvortrag von Prof. E. B. Chain - Zur Entwicklung der Chemotherapie bakterieller Erkrankungen'. Also includes a guide to the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum, and 'Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften' (vol. 45, no. 3, October 1961) relating to the discovery of penicillin.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ernst Boris Chain (1906-1979) was born in Berlin, of Russian-German-Jewish descent. His father, Michael Chain, was a chemist and industrialist who died when Ernst was 13 years old. Ernst Chain studied chemistry and physiology at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University, Berlin. After graduation in 1930 he worked for three years at the Pathology Institute of the Charité Hospital in Berlin on enzyme research where he obtained his doctorate. In 1933 after the Nazi regime came to power in Germany he emigrated to England leaving behind his mother and sister who both perished in the Holocaust.

He initially worked at the School of Biochemistry, Cambridge, before being invited to Oxford University where he worked in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, becoming demonstrator and lecturer in chemical pathology in 1936. In 1948 he was appointed Scientific Director of the International Research Centre for Chemical Microbiology at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome. He became Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College, University of London, in 1961.

He is best known for his reinvestigation of penicillin and the discovery of its chemotherapeutic action. Professor Chain is author of many scientific papers and contributor to important monographs on penicillin and antibiotics. He received numerous awards and honorary degrees for his achievements including the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on penicillin in 1945, the Berzelius Medal in 1946 and the Paul Ehrlich Centenary Prize in 1954. He was made commander of the Legion d'Honneur in 1947, fellow of the Royal Society in 1949, and member of many learned societies. Chain was knighted by Queen Elisabeth II in 1969.

In 1948 he married Anne Beloff (1921-1991), a fellow biochemist. She assisted him with his research in the following years. She received her Ph.D from Oxford University and had worked at Harvard University in the 1940s. She established the biochemistry department at Imperial College with her husband in 1964 where she later became a reader and professor researching into obesity and diabetes. She was also chairman of the British ORT Trust. They had three children: Benjamin, Daniel and Judith.

Chain also became increasingly active in Jewish affairs. He served on the Board of Governors of the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and was a supporter of providing Jewish education for Jewish children in England and abroad.


Chronological and by subject

Conditions Governing Access

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Acquisition Information

Donated by Mrs Sonja Sutton-Steininger



Custodial History

This material was accumulated by friends of the family of Ernst Chain.

Geographical Names