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Karl Landsteiner
Discoverer of Blood Groups

Quotes About Landsteiner

“At 21 years of age he had already known that which
 had impressed me so much…that important discoveries will emerge when one scientific discipline merges with another.”
- Philip Levine, a Landsteiner colleague

“Now I found myself face to face with a tall, very slim, good-looking young man with brown hair and eyes, a moustache, and a rather sensual mouth. His movements were brisk, yet graceful. We had a brief conversation, in the course of which I was impressed by his extraordinary attraction and by his burning enthusiasm for research-work, despite the unpretentious modesty with which he spoke of it.”
- Constantin Levaditi, a professor at the Institute Pasteur in Paris, on Landsteiner

“Whenever test mixtures were to be made…he would add the crucial component to the tubes and read off the reactions, the assistant standing by. This he did…in greater part to assure himself that what took place actually happened. Of this he was incorrigibly doubtful and when a discovery declared itself he would instantly conclude that it could not be real and would set about to make this plain. In thus striving to pull down, he not only buttressed, but often built further. Experiments which revealed anything were done many times over and not until the data on a point under determination were, in his term, ‘thick’, would he publish.”
- Peyton Rous, Nobel Prize winner, on Landsteiner

“He covered wide reaches in the scientific literature, scanned abstracts of articles for mental relaxation, and was ever the first at the current journals, feeling crestfallen if someone mentioned a pertinent paper which he had not seen. To open mail and break the wrappings of scientific journals gave him eager pleasure.”
- Peyton Rous, Nobel Prize winner, on Landsteiner

 “He formulated precisely the relationships between cause and effect, and did not complicate what was still unknown by hypotheses. When he did introduce hypotheses, they were supported scientifically by experiments. He never claimed more than he was able to prove scientifically or could verify by his own experiments.”
- Dr. Paul Speiser, Landsteiner’s Austrian biographer

“Landsteiner had a mind that was by nature sharp-edged and rigorous, delighting in the exact. He read the higher mathematics for diversion, amused himself with problems in advanced algebra and calculus, and followed with zest each forward step in the new mathematical physics.”
- Peyton Rous, Nobel Prize winner, on Landsteiner

“Landsteiner’s work dispelled any notion that might have once been held that there is absolute specificity in immune relations. Indeed, the structures of the many cross-reacting molecules uncovered in work from his laboratory were used to great advantage to illuminate how a ligand’s [any molecule that binds to another] shape, size, and charge distribution affects the extent to which it is recognized by antibodies.”
- Herman Eisen, MD, Professor Emeritus at MIT (2001)

 “The time is past when one man can know all of science. Karl Landsteiner was one of the last possessed of the tremendous intellect that could comprehend and, better still, use practically all of the scientific knowledge of his time.”
- Michael Heidelberger, a collaborator

Landsteiner Quotes About Discovering Blood Groups

“Since no observations whatever had been made in this direction, I selected the simplest experimental arrangements available and the material which offered the best prospects. Accordingly, my experiment consisted of causing the blood serum and erythrocytes (red blood cells) of different human subjects to react with one another.”
- Karl Landsteiner, on his thoughts behind his historical experiment that proved blood groups exist

“A remarkable regularity appeared in the behavior of the 22 blood specimens examined. If one excludes the fetal placental blood, which did not produce agglutination…, in most cases the sera could be divided into three groups: In several cases (group A) the serum reacted on the corpuscles of another group (B), but not on those of group A, whereas the A corpuscles are again influenced in the same manner by serum B. In the third group (C) the serum agglutinates the corpuscles of A and B, while the C corpuscles are not affected by sera of A and B….. In ordinary speech, it can be said that in these cases at least two different kinds of agglutinins (antibodies) are present: some in A, others in B, and both together in C.”
- Karl Landsteiner in his remarkable 1901 paper: “Uber Agglutinationsercheinungen Normalen Menschlichen Blutes” – “On Agglutination Phenomena of Normal Human Blood,”

“Finally, it must be mentioned that the reported observations allow us to explain the variable results in therapeutic transfusions of human blood.”
- Karl Landsteiner. The last sentence of his remarkable 1901 paper: “Uber Agglutinationsercheinungen Normalen Menschlichen Blutes” (On Agglutination Phenomena of Normal Human Blood)

“I was very glad to have your pretty card: thank you very much…. the isoagglutinins we were working on are highly thought of in America, where an immense number of transfusions are performed, the blood-group determined in every case.”
- in a1921 letter Landsteiner wrote to Adriano Sturli

Landsteiner Humor

Landsteiner brought his beloved dog, Waldi, to work and let him sit under his desk. Around lunch time every day Waldi would start barking and Landsteiner would playfully reprimand him:
“Waldi, you’ve not an atom of respect for science.”

Specificity was so important to Landsteiner that friends often kidded him about it. One wrote to him requesting photographs that would define Landsteiner’s “specifistic” nature. Landsteiner returned them, along with an accompanying explanation that the:
"Pictures should define a specifistic, at least if tested against the lower primates.”

“Is it not strange that I, who have so little time left, should be teaching patience to you, who have your life before you?”
- Landsteiner, to his students in America

In Landsteiner’s American Lab

“In Dr Landsteiner’s department I found myself in a closely-knit organization in the German tradition in which all my research plans and technical efforts were closely supervised and instruction was given, in a most kindly way, on every essential point. In such an environment and with such an instructor as Karl Landsteiner it was possible to learn quickly…. Amongst Dr. Landsteiner’s laboratory assistants, when speaking to each other, he was affectionately known as the ‘Chief’.”
- John Jacobs, one of Landsteiner’s students

“He was full of confident energy and enterprise. He had his workrooms equipped as if for chemistry and preferred assistants trained in that branch, not physicians or biologists. Social activities he avoided; in his view the day was for experiment only, reading and thinking could be done at night – until a late hour…. His energy was continuous and compelling, and no moment of idleness in the laboratory was tolerable to him. To each of his assistants he allotted some phase of one of his problems, to be worked upon separately, and he encouraged the trying out of any thoughts concerning it that the assistant might have. To himself new ideas came endlessly and he was continually suggesting trial experiments which ‘would take no time’. His interest was discovery, not training investigators, but each day at lunch he talked with his group about what they were doing, and when a new fact was brought to light he would call them all together to demonstrate it, asking himself and them what it meant.”
- Peyton Rous, Nobel Prize winner, on Landsteiner

“Papers were generally written at night on the dining-room table in Dr. Landsteiner’s large, very simply furnished apartment. It would begin by presenting a first draft, which, in the course of the evening, would be so criss-crossed with corrections and suggestions that it would have to be entirely rewritten. After three or four such sessions, made more pleasant by snacks prepared by Mrs. Landstiener and including foreign cheeses and a little wine when work was over, the shape of a paper gradually appeared.... In writing papers Dr. Landsteiner was never ready to put pen to paper until he had definitely established a new fact. The paper was then built about this fact and its relationships discussed. … the discussions seemed to me to be unique. This was brought about by the fact that he limited himself severely to pointing out the highly probable implications and relationships of the facts observed, almost completely omitting opinion and theory…. During these long sessions Mrs. Jacobs and Mrs. Landsteiner would often sneak off to a moving picture theatre (of which Dr. Landsteiner disapproved)….Summaries were likewise worded with extreme caution and conservation. A large element of his genius consisted in the humility with which he would forgo the opportunity to draw broad theoretical conclusions in the interest of maintaining a high degree of accuracy and objective reality.”
- John Jacobs, one of Landsteiner’s students

“If I am asked to make do with only half a microscope I have to comply.”
- Landsteiner, on his work being limited at the Rockefeller Institute

“We were a closely knit group, united by our interest in these subjects and by our admiration of the ‘Chief’…. There was a constant give and take of ideas in his laboratory in which he was the gifted leader, but the accurate observations, the technical execution of experiments and the spotting of new factual findings were largely the responsibility of the assistants, which had great importance and significance, especially in respect to original observation, in Landsteiner’s method of investigation. Thus when, after I had been with him something over a year, one day he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘John, you have a gift for research’, I felt that this was an honour that no degree, title, praise, or honor has or could ever equal.”
- John Jacobs, one of Landsteiner’s students

The Melancholy Genuis

“He was peremptory by nature but he was downcast, too, self-questioning and never sure in his human relations… His pessimism was sad, not bitter, and never obtrusive; despite it he cheered others in what they were trying to do. But he was held in the grip of his temperament and gradually this tightened upon him: only in his scientific life was he serene and whole. Fortunately he was sensitive else he might have been stern and demanding; and he had an eager yet hesitant desire to be liked. Liking came to him, for he was simple, sincere, modest and gentle, and witty as well in a shy way.”
- Peyton Rous, Nobel Prize winner, on Landsteiner