Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Gottschalk (1894–1973)

by Frank Fenner

This article was published:

Alfred Gottschalk (1894-1973), medical scientist, was born on 22 April 1894 at Aachen, Germany, third of four sons of Benjamin Gottschalk, merchant, and his wife Rosa, née Kahen. Alfred's medical course, begun in 1912 and undertaken at the universities of Munich, Freiburg im Breisgau and Bonn (M.D., 1920), was interrupted by World War I, in which he served in the medical corps of the German Army.

In 1923 he was employed as an assistant to Professor Carl Neuberg at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Experimental Therapy and Biochemistry, Berlin. Gottschalk married Elisabeth Bertha Maria Orgler on 1 August that year in Berlin. Three years later he was appointed director of the biochemistry department at the general hospital, Szczecin, but was forced to relinquish the post in 1934 because of political upheavals in Nazi Germany. (Originally Jewish, he and his family had converted to Catholicism.) After practising medicine privately, in 1939 Gottschalk left Germany with his wife and son; they travelled to Liverpool, England, and thence to Melbourne. His wife left him in 1950.

From 1939 to 1959 Gottschalk worked as a biochemist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, initially on the biochemistry of yeast and from 1947 with (Sir) Macfarlane Burnet in investigating the enzymic activities of influenza virus. Having shown that the viral 'receptor-destroying enzyme' was a neuraminidase, Gottschalk began a study of glycoproteins, on which he became a world authority. He edited Glycoproteins. Their Composition, Structure and Function (Amsterdam, 1966). In 1942-48 he had also taught at the Melbourne Technical College. Naturalized in 1945, he was registered as a medical practitioner in Victoria next year. At the University of Melbourne (D.Sc., 1949), he was awarded the David Syme research prize in 1951. That year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, London, and of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute whose H. G. Smith medal he won in 1954. A fellow (1954) of the Australian Academy of Science, he served as secretary (1954-58) of its Victorian group.

On his retirement in 1959, Gottschalk moved to the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, and continued active benchwork until 1963 when he returned to Germany. He became a guest professor and foreign scientific member (from 1968) at the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research, Tübingen, where he continued to work on glycoprotein biochemistry. The University of Münster awarded him an honorary M.D. in 1969. Gottschalk's scientific work was characterized by his dedication, and by his meticulous attention to detail in the design and execution of experiments and in their description for publication. He insisted on the same standards in his assistants and students; some found his close supervision difficult to tolerate. Outside the laboratory, he was a man of broad interests and interesting conversation, with a subtle sense of humour and a great fund of anecdotes.

Survived by his son, Gottschalk died on 4 October 1973 at Tübingen and was buried there. His scientific publications comprise 216 papers and four books. He is commemorated by the Gottschalk medal, awarded annually by the Australian Academy of Science.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Burnet, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute 1915-1965 (Melb, 1971)
  • Records of the Australian Academy of Science, 3, no 1, Nov 1974, p 52
  • Age (Melbourne), 7, 19 Apr 1962
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 21 Apr 1962
  • Gottschalk papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • AA 58/14108, Dept of Immigration (Central Office) (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Fenner, 'Gottschalk, Alfred (1894–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 April, 1894
Aachen, Germany


4 October, 1973 (aged 79)
Tübingen, Germany

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