Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt (24 March 1903 – 18 January 1995) was a German biochemist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1939 for his "work on sex hormones." He initially rejected the award in accordance with government policy, but accepted it in 1949 after World War II. He was President of the Max Planck Society from 1960 to 1972.
Born in Lehe, near Bremerhaven, he started his studies at the University of Marburg.
For his Ph.D he joined the working group of the Nobel laureate Adolf Windaus at the University of Göttingen and he finished his studies with a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1927.
Adolf Windaus and Walter Schöller of Schering gave him the advice to work on hormones extracted from ovaries. This research lead to the discovery of estrone and other primary female sex hormones, which were extracted from several thousand liters of urine. While working as professor in Gdańsk at the Chemisches Institut he was continuing his works over hormones extracting progesterone in 1934 and testosterone a year later, obtaining a substantial part of research results awarded later by Nobel Committee in 1939.
For this research he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1939 together with Leopold Ružička who was involved in the synthesis of several newly discovered steroids.
After his Habilitation he became lecturer in Göttingen 1931. He was professor at the Technical University of Danzig 1933-1936, and after a visit in the US, he became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biochemistry (later the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry) in Berlin-Dahlem beginning in 1936.
In 1933 Butenandt had signed the Loyalty Oath of German Professors to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist State.
Butenandt joined the NSDAP on 1 May 1936 (party member No. 3716562). As the head of a leading institute, he applied for government funding on concentrated research labeled kriegswichtig (important for the war), some of which focused on military projects like the improvement of oxygen uptake for high-altitude bomber pilots. His involvement with the Nazi regime and various themes of research led to criticism after the war, and even after his death the exact nature of his political orientation during the Nazi era has never been fully resolved. When the institute moved to Tübingen in 1945 he became a professor at the University of Tübingen. In 1956, when the institute relocated to Martinsried, a suburb of Munich, Butenandt became a professor at the University of Munich. He also served as president of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science following Otto Hahn from 1960 to 1972.
Butenandt is credited with the discovery and naming of the silkworm moth pheromone Bombykol in 1959.
Butenandt died in Munich in 1995, at the age of 91. His wife Erika, born in 1906, died in 1995 at 88.
Butenandt’s name will always be associated with his work on sex hormones, for which he was awarded, jointly with Leopold Ruzicka, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for 1939. In 1929 he isolated oestrone in pure, crystalline form, almost at the same time that E.A. Doisy did this in America. In 1931 he isolated androsterone in pure, crystalline form. From androsterone he as well as Ruzicka, independently of each other, obtained testosterone in 1939, a compound which had been obtained from the testes in 1935 by Ernst Laqueur. Progesterone was isolated by Butenandt from the corpus luteum in 1934.
In addition to these researches, Butenandt carried out much investigation of the interrelationships of the sex hormones and on the possible carcinogenic properties of some of them. His work on the sex hormones was largely responsible for the production of cortisone on a large scale.
A great number of honours and distinctions was bestowed upon him. He was awarded several medals and prizes from Germany, France, Sweden and England, he received the Grand Cross for Federal Services with Star (1959), he holds six honorary doctorates (Munich, Graz, Leeds, Madrid and two from Tübingen) and is Freeman of the city of Bremerhaven. He is corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences at Göttingen, honorary life member of the New York Academy of Sciences, and honorary member of the Japanese Biochemical Society, the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, Halle, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
He married Erika Ziegner in 1931; they have seven children and live at Munich-Obermenzing.