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Citrus Punch

On October 22, 1896, American biochemist and nutrition researcher Charles Glen King was born.

For about 200 years, limes and lemons and a few certain other foods were known to be effective in preventing and treating scurvy, a nutritional deficiency disease that, untreated, leads to death. Although it was known by the beginning of the 20th century that citrus juices were critical to good health, the actual beneficial component remained unknown. Unlike most other animals, human beings acquire defense against scurvy through diet. King set out to identify the exact life-saving chemical contained in the citrus juices.

Through a decade of experimentation, he was the first to discover Vitamin C, isolate crystalline ascorbic acid, and publish his results. Applying his knowledge, he continued his four decades of research on vitamins, enzymes, and the molecular structure of sugars and fats.

Ascorbic acid crystallization from aqueous solution on a microscope slide (25X magnification)
Ascorbic acid crystallization from aqueous solution on a microscope slide (25X magnification). Photomicrograph courtesy of Brian Johnston.

While holding professorships at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University, he influenced national and international leaders in their thinking about nutrition. King challenged MIT to establish a department of food science and technology. He helped move nutrition into its own field of science and sparked both academic and industry to attend and fund research.

King helped establish the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant, Soil, and Nutrition Laboratory. He served as president of the International Union of Nutrition Sciences and acted as advisor to and member of several boards, research councils, nutrition associations, and task forces. An example of one man’s application of biochemistry to improve human health on a global scale and advance knowledge for future studies in nutrition and its impact on physiology and metabolism.

Here is a microscopic time-lapse video of ascorbic acid crystals forming on top of glass, resting on top of a stickcam microscope.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage